It could be dangerous to stop taking cholesterol-lowering medication or to change the dosage without consulting a doctor, the Taiwan Society of Lipids and Atherosclerosis (TAS) said.
According to the Health and Drug Administration’s Nutrition and Health Survey in Taiwan conducted from 2013 to 2016, about 22.8 percent of people at least 20 years old had high cholesterol.
Heart disease has for 10 consecutive years been the second-leading cause of death in Taiwan, and having high cholesterol is the main risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, TAS chairman and Mackay Memorial Hospital deputy superintendent Yeh Hung-i (葉宏一) said.
The society also conducted a survey on 540 people aged 30 to 60 who have been diagnosed with hyperlipidemia.
About 59 percent of the respondents have never taken cholesterol-lowering medication, while 71.3 percent think exercise and diet alone are enough to control cholesterol levels, and 33.8 percent think their cholesterol levels do not necessitate medication, Yeh said.
Common misconceptions include believing that cholesterol levels can be controlled with exercise and diet alone, and that medication can be stopped after cholesterol levels drop, TAS secretary-general and National Cheng Kung University Hospital cardiologist Li Yi-heng (李貽恆) said.
People can improve their cholesterol levels by exercising and eating heart-friendly foods, but when exercise and diet alone cannot reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, medication should be prescribed, he said.
Among respondents who took cholesterol-lowering medication, 57 percent stopped taking it for more than a week, and nearly 30 percent said they stopped taking it when their cholesterol levels dropped, Yeh said.
“Poor drug compliance is one of the main reasons patients cannot control their cholesterol levels,” he said.
One study suggested that the risk of acute myocardial infarction increases within 30 days after a patient stops taking statins, a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, while another suggested that the majority of side-effects are caused by the placebo effect, as patients are expecting to experience them, Li said.
The best ways to control cholesterol levels are to adopt a healthy lifestyle, get regular check-ups and take cholesterol tests, Yeh said.