Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Every year in Hawaii, three out of every 10 deaths result from heart disease. That means about 3,000 people die of heart disease every year, according to the state Department of Health.
That’s why it’s important to take your prescription statin to reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke. But many people on a statin don’t always take it as recommended by their doctor.
“Everyone’s busy, and so it’s common that people will miss taking their medications,” says Jeff Tom, M.D., HMSA’s clinical systems director. “The American Medical Association says about half of patients don’t take their medications as recommended by their doctor. For statins, it’s about a third of patients who don’t take it as prescribed. But when taken properly, statins are one of the most effective ways to help lower your bad cholesterol, or LDL.”
There are several reasons people don’t take their statin. Some people forget to take it, while others don’t think it’s important to stay on a daily medication schedule. Also, people may be hesitant because of possible side effects, such as muscle pain and liver damage.
“But those side effects are rare. If you experience side effects, it’s important to talk to your doctor, who can adjust your dose or switch you to another statin that works better for you. Because the benefits can outweigh the risks,” says Dr. Tom.
If you have any questions about your statin or other medications, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. Having open, honest conversations about your health can help you and your doctor work on an action plan that works for you.
Take your medications as prescribed by your doctor or pharmacist, whether it’s once a day or multiple times a day. Skipping a dose can lower its effectiveness. Also, check with the pharmacist to see if you need to take your medication with food or avoid certain foods and liquids to maximize its effectiveness and help prevent possible side effects.
Taking multiple medications can get confusing. Here are tips to help you to stay on track:
- Take your medications the same time every day. Make it part of your daily routine, similar to brushing your teeth or feeding your dog.
- Post a reminder note in an area you frequent, such as the refrigerator door or bathroom mirror. Use bright-colored sticky notes to catch your attention.
- Use a pill organizer. You can buy them in a drugstore and they don’t cost much.
- Ask your pharmacist if your medications can be sorted into dosing packs.
- Set an alarm or download a reminder app on your smartphone.
- Exchange daily reminder messages with friends or family members who also take medications.
- Let household members or caregivers know about your prescriptions. They can remind you to take them.
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about automatic refills and mail order to help you not miss a dose.
Remember to take your medications with you. Pack them in your carry-on bag just in case your checked-in luggage gets lost. Take enough for the duration of your trip plus extra just in case you get stuck or prolong your stay. You don’t want the hassle of having to call your doctor for a prescription and searching for a pharmacy, especially in another country. And just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean your medication routine is on vacation, too. Continue your daily medication schedule to stay on track and help prevent health problems while abroad.
Want to save money on your medications?
Generic medications are as safe and effective as brand-name medications but cost less. Ask your doctor if taking a generic medication is right for you.
Know your cholesterol numbers and the difference between LDL and HDL.
- LDL: Low-density lipoprotein. Bad cholesterol. You want this number to be low.
- HDL: High-density lipoprotein. Good cholesterol. You want this number to be high.
Here are some common risk factors for a heart attack or stroke:
- Family history of heart disease or stroke.
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Older age.
In addition to taking medication, there are other things you can do to help prevent a heart attack or stroke. Here are some recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Eat healthy. Include more whole grains, fruits and nonstarchy vegetables, and lean protein in each meal. Also, try to avoid foods high in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium (salt).
Maintain a healthy weight. Too much belly fat can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. If your body mass index (BMI) falls within the overweight or obese range, losing even just a few pounds can lower your cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Stay active. Little changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator are good ways to get your body moving.
Manage your blood pressure. High blood pressure can make your arteries less elastic, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart and can lead to heart disease. A normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg or the target your health care professional sets.
Limit or avoid alcohol. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults of legal drinking age choose not to drink or drink in moderation. This means two drinks or less a day for men or one drink or less a day for women. Drinking at levels above the moderate drinking guidelines increases the risk of high blood pressure and other health problems.
Don’t smoke. Smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you smoke, look for programs and resources to help you quit.
HMSA can help
Want resources and more information on heart health? HMSA has programs that include health coaching, stop-smoking strategies, and fitness center membership discounts. These are health plan benefits for HMSA members. Learn more at hmsa.com/well-being.