If you think you may have high cholesterol, or are worried about having high cholesterol because of a strong family history, make an appointment with your family doctor to have your cholesterol level checked.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet. For a cholesterol test, you will likely have to avoid eating or drinking anything (other than water) for nine to 12 hours before the blood sample is taken.
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing. High cholesterol itself has no symptoms, but high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. Letting your doctor know if you have symptoms such as chest pains or shortness of breath can help your doctor decide how aggressively your high cholesterol needs to be treated.
- Write down key personal information, including a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure or diabetes, and any major stresses or recent life changes, as well as exposure to other cardiac risks, such as a personal history of smoking or exposure to family members who smoke (secondary exposure).
- Make a list of all medications, as well as any vitamins or supplements, that you're taking.
- Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to soak up all the information provided to you during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Be prepared to discuss your diet and exercise habits. If you don't already exercise or eat a healthy diet, be ready to talk to your doctor about any challenges you might face in getting started.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For high cholesterol, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What kinds of tests will I need?
- What's the best treatment?
- What foods should I eat or avoid?
- What's an appropriate level of physical activity?
- How often do I need a cholesterol test?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
- Should I see a specialist?
- If I need medication, is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing me?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me?
- What websites do you recommend visiting?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:
- Do you have a family history of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or heart disease or strokes?
- What are your diet and exercise habits like?
- Do you smoke? Are you or were you around other smokers?
- Have you had a cholesterol test before? If so, when was your last test? What were your cholesterol levels?
What you can do in the meantime
It's never too early to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating healthy foods and becoming more physically active. These are primary lines of defense against high cholesterol and its complications, including heart attack and stroke.
Feb. 12, 2013
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