(BPT) - February is American Heart Month, the perfect time to improve heart health and take control of your well-being. The first step is understanding a serious health condition that affects more than 100 million Americans: high cholesterol.

High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in America. When cholesterol levels get too high, it creates a thick, hard buildup within the walls of the arteries. High cholesterol must be taken seriously, a fact that legendary TV personality and Emmy(R) Award winner Regis Philbin knows all too well.

"My heart health issues began in 1992 when I was on set with Kathie Lee Gifford and experienced sudden shortness of breath and chest pains," Philbin explains. "I was shocked to learn I had a blocked artery and would need angioplasty right away. Then in 2007, I had to have triple bypass surgery."

From then on, getting his high cholesterol in check has been a priority.

"I worked with my doctor to find the right statin for me, and try to stick to a heart-healthy diet with plenty of exercise," Philbin says. "I recently learned that many people stop taking their statins after a year of starting them, and often aren’t told by their doctor that there are multiple statin options available."

Statin 101: The inside scoop

Many doctors prescribe a class of medicines called statins, which are proven to be both safe and effective in the treatment of high cholesterol. Statins work by blocking an important enzyme that your liver needs to help make LDL (bad) cholesterol. Statins also help to keep production of cholesterol down and to ultimately remove it from the bloodstream.

Despite the proven benefits of taking this medicine, at least 50 percent of people stop taking their statin within one year of starting it, often due to side effects or other challenges. This staggering statistic came as a surprise to Philbin, who spoke to his doctor after experiencing muscle pain — a common side effect — and switched his medication to the statin he is on now. Some people might not know that there are multiple statins out there and that they can work with their doctor, as Philbin did, to customize their treatment to their individual needs. This can lead people to stop taking their doctor-prescribed medication, which can be quite concerning.

"That’s why I’m now involved in Take Cholesterol to Heart, a new campaign that encourages people to talk openly with their doctor and find the statin that works best for them," Philbin says.

There is a clear need for expanded physician-patient dialogue about statins: When patients were first prescribed a statin, only 33 percent say their healthcare provider explained why that particular statin was being prescribed, according to ACTION: The Statin Survey (Understanding Patient Adherence and Concerns with Statins, and Medication Discussions with Physicians), which was conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Kowa Pharmaceuticals America. ACTION is one of the largest surveys of its kind, evaluating 5,014 U.S. adults aged 45 or older who have been diagnosed with high cholesterol and had ever used a statin to treat high cholesterol. The survey also found that when first prescribed a statin, just 21 percent of patients say that their healthcare provider told them that there are different types of statins available. Only 18 percent say they were told that their prescribed statin could potentially interact with other medications and supplements.

Speak from the heart

It's important to have a heart-to-heart with your doctor about heart health. Not sure where to start? Take Cholesterol to Heart is a wonderful resource that offers a conversation guide to help you ask the right questions and provide the best information for your doctor to make an informed decision about your prescription needs and heart-health management plan.

For example, if you have questions or concerns about which statin is most appropriate for you, be sure to discuss this while meeting with your doctor. You may want to write down and ask:

  • What’s my cholesterol goal?
  • Which statin is most suited to my unique needs?
  • What can I expect when taking my prescribed statin?
  • Will the statin interact with any other medications I’m taking?

Remember, you're not alone. During American Heart Month and always, you and your healthcare team both have the same goal: to keep your heart as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

Check out http://tc2h.com/info or www.Facebook.com/TakeCholesteroltoHeart to learn more.

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