Tipsheet for Heart Disease Tipsheet for Heart Disease
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

There are two key people in your health care team, you and your doctor. You are just as important as your doctor in directing your health care. Only you know how you feel, what you are doing or not doing to improve your health, what you expect from your health, and any difficulties you may be having. It is important for you to tell your doctor these things so he or she can recommend the best treatment.

The first step you should take in becoming an active member of your health care team is to understand what you are being treated for and why. Continue to ask questions until you understand the answer.

It is important for you to understand your coronary heart disease, your risk factors for heart disease, the special diet you are on, medicines you may be taking, and the tests needed to follow your progress. Ask about the benefits of medications as well as possible side effects. If you are aware of possible side effects of a treatment, you will be able to manage them better. See How to Stay on Your Cholesterol Lowering Medicine.

By paying attention to your health and maintaining your own records, you will become an active decision maker in your health care. See cholesterol-monitoring log.

Talk to Your Doctor–Be Part of Your Health Care Team

In addition to your doctor, other health professionals can help you control your blood cholesterol levels. These persons include:

Registered nurses (RNs) can explain your treatment plan to you, show you how to take your medication, and help you find other sources of information and help. As the health care provider you see the most, nurses are a key resource when you are lowering your cholesterol.
Registered dietitians (RDs) or qualified nutritionists can explain food plans, show you how to make changes in what you eat, and give you advice on shopping for and preparing foods and eating out. They also can help you set goals for changing the way you eat, so you can successfully lower your high blood cholesterol without making big changes all at once in your eating habits or in your lifestyle. Call the National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics of the American Dietetic Association at 1-800-366-1655 for a referral to a registered dietitian (RD) near you.
Lipid specialists are doctors who are experts in treating high blood cholesterol and similar conditions. You may be referred to a lipid specialist if the treatment your doctor is prescribing does not successfully lower your blood cholesterol levels.
Pharmacists are aware of the best ways to take medicines to lessen side effects and of the latest research on drugs. They can help you stay on your drug treatment program.
Many people need help while making changes in life habits to reduce their risk; do not be afraid to ask for help from family, friends, and your health care team. Involve your spouse, family members, or significant others in your treatment plan. By sharing your problem and the importance of cholesterol-lowering goals (LDL less than 100 mg/dL), your current treatment plan, and your medication schedule, you can get the help you need to succeed in controlling your cholesterol and lowering your risk.

Long-Term Monitoring

Because you have heart disease or are at high risk for developing it you will need to monitor your cholesterol and other risk factors for the rest of your life. By discussing your monitoring plan with your health care provider, both you and your physician will be more likely to stick to this plan. Several helpful hints are provided in the box below to help you avoid relapsing to a less healthy lifestyle. If you have a specific problem that is not listed here, discuss it with your doctor, nurse, or dietitian.

Helpful Hints To Monitor Your New Lifestyle

Record your test results at each visit.
Set realistic short-term goals and write them down.
Review your goals during each visit with your health care provider.
Share your goals with your family and friends. Support is often the key to success.
If you find yourself unable to keep to your plan, write down all of the reasons that you think are responsible. Next, write down what alternatives you have if that situation happens again. If you prepare an alternate strategy in advance, you are more likely to stick to your plan and reach your goals.
When setting your goals with your health care provider, remember the target cholesterol level for persons with heart disease and those at high risk for developing it:

LDL-cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL

In addition, since a high triglyceride level or a low HDL-cholesterol level is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, patients with heart disease or those at high risk of developing it who have a high triglyceride and/or an HDL level less than 40 mg/dL after the LDL goal is reached may need further treatment.

Maintaining Healthy Behaviors and Overcoming Relapse

The goal of diet, physical activity, weight loss, and medicine is to keep your blood cholesterol under control. If you go off your treatment, your blood cholesterol will go up again–and so will your risk for heart attack. You need to continue your cholesterol-lowering therapy for life.

Many people find lifelong changes in diet and activity difficult to manage. It is important to remember that because you may not always stick with your new diet or exercise plan, you are not a failure–just human. The most important part of your new healthy lifestyle is learning how to overcome these challenges and quickly return to your goal.