By Linda G. P. Schneider, MD
I have a distinct memory from medical school –around the time when studies began to emerge linking high cholesterol to heart disease– of my professor lecturing passionately in defense of the “natural hardening of arteries”. In this era of medicine, the widely held view was that the excess buildup of plaque in arteries, or atherosclerosis as we know it today, was a natural part of the aging process.
We now, of course, know high cholesterol to be a contributing factor in the risk for heart disease and have a better understanding of the steps that can be taken to manage, and lower, a patient’s dangerously high levels.
For a patient newly diagnosed with high cholesterol, or for one who has been working with a physician to manage their levels, there is often a lingering, ever-present fear of a potential heart attack or stroke in the distant, or not so distant, future.
This fear can be exacerbated for a patient with a predisposition to high cholesterol or whose risk factors are increased due to a genetic component or condition.
In these cases, a Lipid Specialist can step in with the knowledge and added expertise to serve as an additional resource for patients and physicians navigating the often-frustrating journey towards a personalized and successful treatment plan. Added emphasis is placed on early intervention before a high cholesterol diagnosis – more specifically before a life-threatening, and often life-changing, adverse cardiac event or stroke.
In such cases as Familial Hypercholesterolemia, through early intervention with the patient and their families a genetic link can be established; this empowers patients to take control of their health before cholesterol levels become dangerously high, increasing their risk of a heart attack or stroke.
With heart disease as a leading cause of death in men and women, the importance placed on collaboration between a Lipid Specialist, primary care physician and the patient in high cholesterol management and treatment can lead to modified outcomes.
Consultations for Lipid Specialists often range from a single visit to review medications to multiple visits until we find a successful management regimen. In the majority of cases, once a patient’s cholesterol levels are manageable, the patient returns to the care of their primary care physician.
When it comes to patient care, a Lipid Specialist should be viewed as any other specialist – a member of the patient’s physician team devoted to continuity of care and collaborating to find the best treatment plan, while assuaging a patient’s fears and working towards better outcomes.
Linda G. P. Schneider, MD is a family medicine physician and lipid specialist with TPMG Hampton Family Medicine. She is Board certified in Family Medicine and a Diplomate of the American Board of Clinical Lipidology. www.mytpmg.com