In keeping with American Heart Month, I want to explore how nurse practitioners manage their patient’s heart health. When reviewing the Framingham Heart Study, a famous research study continuing for more than 50 years, I realized most nurse practitioners don’t have high enough standards for managing their patient’s cholesterol levels.
Managing chronic diseases such as hyperlipidemia can be difficult. Despite your best efforts as a NP to encourage healthy eating among your patients, a 15-minute appointment slot is typically not enough to encourage lifestyle change. Yes, medications lowering cholesterol can be effective but most patients continue to have hyperlipidemia even on medications.
The American Heart Association identifies a total cholesterol level of 200 as ‘desirable’. Levels of 200 to 239 are labeled ‘borderline high’ and levels above 240 are termed ‘high’. Although these levels are recommended by a renowned institution, they may not be stringent enough to prevent cardiovascular disease among your patients. As a nurse practitioner, you must adopt more rigorous standards to protect your patient’s health.
Data from the Framingham Heart Study show that there is a level at which essentially no coronary artery disease occurs. In the Framingham study, almost no coronary artery disease occurred among individuals with a total cholesterol level of less than 150. In the first 50 years of this study examining thousands of individuals, only five people with cholesterol levels of less than 150 developed coronary artery disease.
Only about five percent of the population has a true genetic tendency toward heart disease. This means that if you as a nurse practitioner can educate your patients about smoking cessation, healthy eating and encourage total cholesterol levels of less than 150 you can truly prevent cardiovascular disease among your patients. Cool, huh?
More good news? It’s not too late for your patients already suffering from coronary artery disease. Some studies have shown that heart disease can be reversed with a strict diet. 82 percent of individuals reverting to a vegetarian diet (low in cholesterol and fat) had measurable reversal of coronary artery blockages.
Since February is heart month, let’s take responsibility as nurse practitioners to inform our patients about decreased cardiovascular risk associated with a chlesterol level of less than 150. If our patient’s commit to keeping their cholesterol levels less than 150 they can avoid coronary artery disease and perhaps reverse the damage that has already been done to their hearts. Rise above the typical recommended cholesterol guidelines and demand better from you and your patients. Then, you will truly make a difference.