Cholesterol-Lowering Medications 101
It seems as though medications for lowering cholesterol are constantly being developed, tested, and enhanced. As a result, it can be difficult to keep them all straight, especially as new research comes out to show that drugs once thought effective don't actually work the way doctors had hoped. Keep reading to find out which medications are available and which might be best for you or a loved one.
Cholesterola waxy, fat like substance that's found in all cells of the bodyisn't all bad: Your body needs some of it to function. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the human body makes all the cholesterol it needs naturally, and an unhealthy diet or sedentary lifestyle can cause cholesterol levels to become higher than necessary.
High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Unfortunately, about 17 percent of adult Americans have high cholesterol (above 240 mg/dL), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In some cases, eliminating saturated fats from your diet can significantly reduce levels, as can regular exercise. But for others, that isn't enough, and medications must be prescribed.
Treatments to Lower Cholesterol
According to the American Heart Association, various medications can lower blood cholesterol levels. They may be prescribed individually or in combination with other drugs. After prescribing a medication, your doctor will advise on how often you need to get your levels checked.
All medications work differently and new research emerges all the time; if you are taking a medication that you have concerns about, don't stop taking it on your own. Talk to your doctor about switching to a different type.
This class of drugs works in the liver to prevent the formation of cholesterol. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, statins lower LDL (bad) levels better than any other type of cholesterol medication. Statins also have modest effects on lowering triglycerides (blood fats) and raising HDL (good) cholesterol. Most of statins' side effects are mild and generally go away as your body adjusts. Muscle problems and liver abnormalities are rare, but your doctor may order regular liver function tests. Patients who are pregnant or who have active or chronic liver disease should not take statins.
Selective Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors
This relatively new class of cholesterol-lowering medications is designed to work by preventing the absorption of cholesterol from the intestine. Although selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors have been effective at lowering LDL cholesterol in certain studies, new research suggests that they do not actually reduce the risk of heart disease or the build-up of plaque in the arteries. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about this type of medication.
This class of LDL-lowering drugs works in the intestines by promoting increased disposal of cholesterol. Your body uses cholesterol to make bile, an acid used in the digestive process. These medicines bind to bile, so it can't be used during digestion. Your liver then responds by making more bile. The more bile your liver makes, the more cholesterol it uses. This means that less cholesterol is left to circulate throughout your bloodstream.
This class of medication is best at lowering triglycerides, and in some cases, increasing HDL levels. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the reductions in triglycerides range from 20 to 50 percent with increases in HDL cholesterol from 10 to 15 percent. These drugs are not very effective in lowering LDL cholesterol levels, and so fibrates may be used in combination therapy with statins.
Not to be confused with the dietary supplement, which is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), prescription niacin works in the liver by affecting the production of blood fats. Niacin is prescribed to lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol as well as raise HDL cholesterol. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, niacin generally reduces LDL cholesterol levels by 10 to 20 percent, reduces triglycerides by 20 to 50 percent, and raises HDL cholesterol levels by 15 to 35 percent. Niacin side effects may include flushing, itching, and stomach upset. This drug can also cause toxicity, and so the liver functions of patients using niacin must be closely monitored by a doctor.
Sign Up for Free Newsletters
Ask Your Doctor the RIGHT Questions!
the most from your doctor visit.
Emailed right to you!
The Ask Your Doctor email series
may contain sponsored content.
18+, US residents only please.
Explore Original Articles About...
The material on the QualityHealth Web site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a physician or other qualified health provider. See additional information.