Having high cholesterol is not like having a cut or an infection. You can’t be treated and cured and then forget about it. To control high cholesterol, you need to stick with your treatment plan for life. It’s not enough to improve your diet, exercise regularly, and take your medicine for a short time. If you don’t stick with your treatment, your cholesterol will likely return to the unhealthy levels you worked so hard to change.
Instead, you need to make healthy eating and regular exercise part of your lifestyle. If you need medicine to lower your cholesterol, you’ll probably need to take this for the rest of your life, too. The good news is that the lifestyle changes that help control cholesterol can also help prevent other health problems. These include diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer. Your healthcare team can teach you how to make the changes you need to make and can support your efforts.
The Phases of Treatment
Treatment for high cholesterol has three main parts:
- the immediate, or acute, aspect
- a period of optimizing your treatment
- the continuing and maintenance aspects
Every person who is being treated for high cholesterol goes through all three phases of treatment. That’s why it’s important that you keep all your follow-up visits with your doctor. Remember, you can’t feel it if your cholesterol is high; you need your doctor to test your blood.
Acute treatment. If your cholesterol levels are unhealthy, start working on your diet and exercise habits right away. This rarely means that you have to make big changes overnight. But you do need to take some steps in the right direction. Then you can build upon your new, healthier habits over time. Based on your cholesterol levels and your risk factors for heart disease, you may need to start taking medicine right away, too.
Optimizing treatment. To find out whether your treatment is working and how well, your doctor will want to monitor your cholesterol levels closely. Your doctor can tell you how often you need to come back in for checkups. It’s important to get these checkups to find out whether your cholesterol levels are improving. If you started with diet and exercise alone, your doctor will probably wait about 6 months to decide whether you need medicine as well. You may want to work with a dietitian and an exercise specialist for help in making lifestyle changes. If you’ve started taking medicine, your doctor may need to change your dosage or medicine to find a regimen that works well for you.
Maintenance treatment. Once you achieve healthy cholesterol levels, you need to continue all the treatments that got you there. Stick with a healthy diet. Exercise on most days. Take your medicine as directed.