Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that performs certain essential functions, like nerve protection, cell tissue creation, and the creation of certain hormones. However, when a build-up of cholesterol occurs in blood vessels, blood flow can be severely impacted, which can result in heart attack or stroke.
Patients can have a lot of confusion about cholesterol, and concerns about how to keep cholesterol levels healthy and in balance. Some of the confusion stems from the fact that there are different kinds of cholesterol.
An important aspect of cholesterol is the distinction between low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglycerides. LDL is the cholesterol that, when it builds up in arteries, can cause heart disease. An easy mnemonic to remember is that LDL is the “lousy” cholesterol. This is why most cholesterol-control efforts focus on lowering an individual’s LDL level – below 130 is best. HDL works in the opposite way. The higher an individual’s HDL level is, the lower their chance of heart disease. Triglycerides are stores of fats and carbohydrates, and too high a level can put an individual at increased risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol should be tested regularly to ensure that it is at healthy levels.
Cholesterol and Heart Health
Cholesterol and heart health go hand in hand – just as with preventative heart care and cardiac rehabilitation, patients can balance their cholesterol levels and reduce their risk for heart attack and stroke by:
- Eating responsibly: Reducing intake of saturated fats, dietary cholesterol, and carbohydrates can help regulate and lower LDL and triglyceride levels.
- Consuming high-fiber foods: Fruits, vegetables, oats, whole grains, beans, peas, nuts, vegetable oils, and seeds can all help lower LDL.
- Staying active: A good rule of thumb is to get at least 30 minutes of exercise four to seven days a week.
- Avoiding or quitting smoking: Smoking cigarettes can narrow blood vessels, raise levels of LDL and lower levels of HDL.
- Ask a doctor: Patients concerned about their cholesterol levels should talk to their physician about potential medications that could help regulate their cholesterol levels.
When a patient learns he or she has unhealthy cholesterol levels, they may have a variety of responses including fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and feeling overwhelmed. Nursing students, especially those in the cardiac nursing field, should learn to communicate with their patients clearly and with empathy, being as understanding as possible and offering advice and counsel.
Become a Patient Educator
Here are five key methods that cardiac nurses and nursing students can practice to become better patient educators:
- Meet them where they’re at. Before jumping into explanations and advice, find out what patients currently know (or think they know) about their condition. This may be an opportunity to clear up any misconceptions or presuppositions.
- Take your time. Don’t rush a patient and their family through a diagnosis and/or prognosis. Take the time to explain exactly what the results and next steps are, and be patient and open to questions.
- Cut the jargon. Using acronyms and medical jargon can often only serve to further confuse an already overwhelmed patient. Be specific and relate everything back to them and their life, using everyday language.
- Be emotionally stable. The patient and their family members may be going through several emotions upon hearing of their diagnosis or test results. Take this opportunity to be a calm, collected and reassuring presence.
- Offer resources and learning opportunities. Point your patient toward informational seminars, publications, and support groups that could help them understand more about their condition outside the exam room. Some patients may be reluctant to ask questions during their visit, but will think of several after they’ve left. Make sure they have the resources they need to find answers.
If you are looking for simulation tools to support cholesterol education, see our Accutrend Plus Blood Cholesterol/ Glucose Monitor, Understanding Cholesterol Chart, and the Cholesterol Determination of Simulated Blood Lab Activity.