Higher Mileage Requires Higher Maintenance

I am not an advocate of chronic social media use, and fully recognize that even with us citizens doing nothing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al, the world still knows more about us than most of us are comfortable with. That said, though, I’m going to abandon my own personal privacy rules and share some personal history for no other reason than it might be helpful for readers who are finding themselves in similar circumstances.

I’ve been blessed with generally good genetics my whole life and have had no serious health challenges, have always enjoyed the inside of a gym with lots of equipment, have run a few shorter triathlons, and still enjoy running, biking, and swimming, and just about anything involving the outdoors.

We have a great wellness program at AOPA, and our annual Health Fair includes the basic screenings that for me have historically resulted in good results, the dermascan test that reveals the extent of UV sun damage being one notable exception. My lab work has always been in the middle of the normal range, and other than the uncontrollable risk factors of gender, age, and family history, I’d say my risk profile is probably “OK.”

I monitor my blood pressure on a regular basis, and I had noticed it starting to creep up slowly over the last few months, in the high 130s systolic. Not too alarming, but considering my baseline has always been well in the “normal” range, I brought it up with my new healthcare provider in my first visit. That started a mild cascade of change that, I have to say, kinda caught me by surprise. Based on my BP readings, he suggested I start with a low dose “trial run” of lisinopril, an ACE-inhibitor, to see how I tolerated it. I also had a CBC with lipid panel ordered at the same visit, and my follow-up visit three weeks later brought even more surprises!

My fasting glucose was slightly high, and so was the LDL. So that led to another pharmacy visit, this time for simvastatin to bring the LDL back into line. During the follow-up discussion with my nurse practitioner, he ran a risk profile for heart disease based on age, BP, and Total and HDL cholesterol that showed my 10-year risk for heart disease or stroke was almost 20%! To me, twenty percent of just about anything is worth noticing, so it was a sobering realization. You can do your own risk assessment if you “have your numbers,” your total cholesterol, HDL, and blood pressure.

I’ve spent my whole career at AOPA telling pilots that taking anti-hypertensives and statins is “no big deal,” and it really isn’t, but when it happened to me, there was a slight mental reset button that I had to push as it did get my attention. Although the thought of being on two new meds in the same visit wasn’t sitting very well with me at the time, the risk/benefit equation made sense. Being on a statin is reported to lower the long-term risk by about half, so I’m okay with that.

I’ve been on the simvastatin now for over a week, and the only real side effect I’ve noticed, and the list of potential side effects is a long one, is some rather bizarre and vivid dreams that I actually remember for a while after I am up and around. I asked our PPS consultant, Dr. Larry Diamond, about that side effect, and sure enough, simvastatin is a sleep-affecting culprit. As long as the dreams aren’t of me dying or being chased by some demon that has me so scared I can’t even scream in my slumber, I’ll accept that side effect as inconsequential.

So, know your numbers, and don’t ignore the need to treat the condition(s). The FAA is fine with virtually all blood pressure meds and statins. If you have questions, also do not hesitate to give us a call and we can get you on the right track.

Portrait of Gary Crump, AOPA's director of medical certification with a Cessna 182 Skylane at the National Aviation Community Center.
Frederick, MD USA

Gary Crump

Gary is the Director of AOPA’s Pilot Information Center Medical Certification Section and has spent the last 32 years assisting AOPA members. He is also a former Operating Room Technician, Professional Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician, and has been a pilot since 1973.

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