Cholesterol management, specifically with regards to choosing and staying on the right statin, is the focus of the recent national health initiative "Take Cholesterol to Heart."

Speaking to Medical Daily, cardiologist and University of California, Los Angeles, professor Dr. Karol Watson along with heart attack survivor and motivational speaker Eliz Greene shed light on how women should prioritize their hearts' health by managing their cholesterol.

Risk factors for women

While a poor diet is a well-known risk factor, Dr. Watson explained women can particularly be affected at certain points in their lives such as menopause, pregnancy and puberty.

“For instance, during puberty, boys tend to get taller and thinner and their cholesterol levels may not change that much, but girls tend to get taller and heavier and their cholesterol levels can increase at that time,” she said.

At 35, Greene was seven months pregnant with twins when she suffered her first heart attack, despite being a dance teacher and leading a relatively healthy lifestyle. She sees the event as a turning point in her life as it encouraged her to pay more attention to blood pressure, cholesterol, and even her stress levels.

A healthy, stress-free lifestyle

“Women and girls need to figure out how to recover from stress,” says Greene. “Our bodies naturally react to stress by pumping the hormone cortisol into our bodies, which raises blood pressure, elevates heart rate and causes more risk factors that can impact our heart health.”

She advised women to make time for “individualized stress recovery activities” as what helps one person may actually cause stress for another. Women can choose what they prefer, she stressed, from examples such as meditation, going for a run, reading a book, watching a television show, or meeting with friends.

Dr. Watson also emphasized the impact of a healthy lifestyle, while encouraging good habits to be ingrained from an early age.

“A lot of our LDL cholesterol levels are genetically determined, but about 25 percent is related to our lifestyle, so we need be sure we continue to maintain an optimal body weight, and continue to eat a healthy, prudent diet. We need to continue to exercise regularly,” she explained.

Statins for cholesterol management

Medicines known as statins are prescribed for the safe and effective treatment of high cholesterol. They work by blocking an enzyme in the body, which aids the production of LDL cholesterol.  

But sometimes, a patient may stop taking their statin without understanding the potential risks of doing so.

“[Patients] think that cholesterol can be managed with diet exercise alone, and they don't realize that their doctor prescribed a statin because they believe it is important for them,” Dr. Watson said.

She added statins also have other benefits aside from being the best preventative medication to reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack, and cardiovascular death. So her advice to people who have concerns about their medications? — “Talk to your doctor.”  

Greene added she has been guilty of stopping medication without discussing it with her doctor.

“Not only was I no longer receiving the benefits of the prescription, but abruptly quitting increased my risk of a heart attack,” she said.

Highlighting the tools offered by "Take Cholesterol to Heart," Greene said the key is to be prepared with questions and have an open conversation with the doctor.