High cholesterol impacts one in three Canadian adults and is a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
Although high cholesterol can be managed using common medications and often through healthy lifestyle choices, many with the condition aren’t receiving treatment. In fact, many Canadians aren’t aware of their condition, because high cholesterol doesn’t make you feel sick or unwell. The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is through a blood test.
Even when someone knows their cholesterol levels and are aware of their risks, cholesterol can be a confusing topic. Understanding the difference between “good” and “bad” cholesterol and knowing how best to manage high cholesterol can be puzzling.
Website addresses knowledge gap
A University of Calgary team, led by clinician-scientist Dr. Sonia Butalia, MD, is addressing this knowledge gap head on. Over a two-year period, Butalia’s team developed a website to help people understand how cholesterol affects them and to help them determine what kind of treatment is best for them.
The interactive website, Let’s Talk Cholesterol, was created with input and assistance from patient partners, family doctors, physician specialists and UCalgary’s human-centred design experts in the Physician Learning Program. The website provides information about heart health, high cholesterol and its treatment, and includes a cardiovascular risk calculator. There is also a resource section for physicians.
The tool will also be linked to all lipid lab reports in the province, which Albertans can access through My Health Records.
“During our consultation process, patients and physicians told us there was a clear gap and that a tool was really needed to support clinical shared decision-making,” says Butalia. “We are delighted that this tool has been so well received.”
Cardiac patient: Prevention is key
Winnie Pearson has been a cardiac patient for more than 40 years and is a trained patient-researcher and patient-adviser. She was part of the team that created Let’s Talk Cholesterol and thinks the tool is a good resource for patients.
“There is definitely a gap in knowledge for people when it comes to cholesterol,” she says. “This tool is a great start because it educates people about cholesterol and heart health. I believe it will spark conversation between patients and their physicians.”
Ultimately, Pearson says she hopes Let’s Talk Cholesterol will empower people to make healthy lifestyle choices and seek treatment when necessary to avoid worsening heart problems. It’s a topic she is very familiar with.
When she was 48, her doctor told her she had high cholesterol and that it could be dangerous. Pearson says she didn’t take it as seriously as she should have and ended up having a heart attack.
“Believe me, you don’t want to go through what I did. Prevention is much better, and you should honour yourself by being proactive about your health.”
Pearson encourages people to get their cholesterol checked, talk to their doctor about what their numbers mean and take the necessary steps to prevent a heart attack.
Practical tool can simplify decision-making
Dr. Todd Anderson, dean of the Cumming School of Medicine and a cardiologist, says Let’s Talk Cholesterol has the potential to simplify the patient’s and physician’s journey as they navigate optimal treatment guidelines and therapies.
“This project is highly impactful as it provides a practical tool for people to assess their risk, learn about the importance of high cholesterol and see their own numbers,” he says. “They can take charge of their own care.”
Butalia says the team’s next goal is to have a link to Let’s Talk Cholesterol on national health websites, so that more people may benefit from this resource.
Let’s Talk Cholesterol was funded by Diabetes Canada.