High Cholesterol and the Importance of Talking to Your Doctor

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 24, 2024
5 min read

You can get info about your high cholesterol from the internet, books, and other places, but doctors are the true experts. Their education, training, and knowledge will help them create a tailored plan for managing your condition.

In the past, they thought you should have your cholesterol checked once a year. But that’s changed. Now doctors say if you’re not at risk for high cholesterol, getting screened every 5 years is OK. But if you have higher risk factors, like family members with high cholesterol, you should get checked more often.

To make sure your doctor has a full picture of your cholesterol health, have regular doctor visits and check-ups. If you have high cholesterol, this info helps them decide which treatments are best for you.

At your next doctor's visit, think about asking some of these questions:

  • What is my cholesterol level?
  • What’s the difference between HDL, LDL, and triglycerides?
  • Could genes play a role in my cholesterol levels?
  • Should I have genetic testing to find out if I have a cholesterol disorder?
  • Will diet and exercise alone bring down my cholesterol?
  • Which foods should I eat to lower my cholesterol? Which should I avoid?
  • How often should I exercise? What kinds of exercise should I do?
  • What is the connection between cholesterol and heart disease?
  • Do I have a higher chance of heart disease?
  • Do I need to take cholesterol-lowering medicine?
  • Which medicine is best for me?
  • Are there other options besides statins?
  • How much does my cholesterol medicine cost?
  • Are there other options to bring the cost down?
  • Are there programs to help me pay for this medicine?
  • What are the possible side effects of my cholesterol medicine?
  • How long will it take for the medicine to start working?

Your doctor may also have questions for you. They’ll want to learn more about:

  • Your genes. Does anyone else in your family have high cholesterol or heart disease? Your genes play a role in whether your body can get rid of LDL or “bad” cholesterol, even if you take other steps to lower it. 
  • Your overall health. Your doctor will look at more than your cholesterol levels. Conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure also help them figure out your chances of heart disease and stroke. This information also helps them decide which treatments are best for you. 

They can explain the difference between your HDL (“good”) and your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and how your triglycerides are related to your cholesterol.

Using information about your health and lifestyle habits, your doctor can provide:

Suggestions for better health

Your doctor might recommend changing your diet. They can tell you which foods will raise your LDL levels, like those high in fat (cheese, whole milk, and fatty meats) and trans fats (packaged snacks and desserts).

They can tell you the types of foods you should eat more of, such as fiber (fruit, vegetables, oatmeal, and beans), olive oil, nuts, fish, eggs, yogurt, and avocados. If you need more advice, they may refer you to a dietitian.

Talking to your doctor will also help you learn about other lifestyle changes you can make to manage your cholesterol. These might include things like getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, quitting smoking, and limiting how much alcohol you drink.

If these changes aren’t enough to lower your cholesterol, it’s possible you’ll need to take medication. Your doctor can suggest the right one based on your age, health, possible side effects, and other factors.

Maybe you’ve heard that taking certain supplements can lower your cholesterol. Your doctor will know which ones are safe and which ones you should avoid. For example, a common supplement you might hear about is red yeast rice, which combines fermented steamed rice with food fungus. But more research is needed to know if it lowers cholesterol. Also, other over-the-counter products like flaxseed and garlic may help bring down your cholesterol. Talk to your doctor before trying a supplement, to make sure it’s a good idea for you.

Insights into treatments

Your doctor is a good place to start when you want to learn about cholesterol treatments, including how they work, their possible side effects, and if they’re right for you.

There are different kinds of cholesterol medications, including statins, PCSK9 inhibitors, cholesterol absorption inhibitors, and others. If your doctor has prescribed a medicine, ask why they chose it. Have they prescribed it before? How will they know if it’s working?  

Your doctor might suggest a drug that’s new to the market. Ask why they prefer it over a more established medication. Also, keep in mind that newer drugs will probably cost more and fewer people have used them. Your doctor may not have answers yet about a new drug’s potential side effects or success rate.

Talking to your doctor will also help them keep an eye on any medication side effect that you might have. Keep a list of your meds and let your doctor know of any changes you’re having. They can let you know if a side effect is temporary, or if you need to stop taking the drug and switch to another one. Ask questions. Find out how long you should try a medication before deciding if it’s working.

Ways to lower your medical costs

Medical expenses are an important topic, but many people shy away from having this conversation with their doctor. One survey found that less than one-third of adults who take prescription drugs discussed costs with their prescribing doctor in the past year. Your doctor may not think to talk about it either. Medical costs may not be part of their training, or they could suggest a specific treatment out of routine.

Talking to your doctor about medical costs can help keep more money in your pocket. So how do you start the conversation? If your doctor has prescribed a brand-name medicine to lower your cholesterol, ask if there’s a generic version available.  Generic drugs work just as well as the brand-name version and undergo a thorough review process. But, they can cost around 80% to 85% less than brand-name drugs. Other cost-saving ideas your doctor might suggest include:

  • Changing the dose of your cholesterol medicine
  • Changing how often you need to take a medicine
  • Lowering the number of drugs you need to take
  • Offering you a medicine that has a lower copay
  • Postponing medical tests until you’ve met your deductible
  • Staggering follow-up appointments
  • Discounts or payment plans