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Welcome to our health education library. The information shared below is provided to you as an educational and informational source only and is not intended to replace a medical examination or consultation, or medical advice given to you by a physician or medical professional.

Cholesterol Medications

Cholesterol Medications

Your doctor has prescribed medication to help control your cholesterol. This sheet tells you how cholesterol affects your health. It also explains how medications can help improve your cholesterol levels.

Understanding Cholesterol

Your pharmacist can help answer any questions about your cholesterol medications.

Cholesterol is a type of fat (lipid) that's carried in the blood. Your body makes cholesterol in the liver. You also get it from certain foods. The body needs some cholesterol to stay healthy. But high cholesterol increases buildup of plaque (a fatty substance) in the blood vessels. This lessens or blocks blood flow in these vessels. This raises your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other health problems.

Types of Lipids

There are three key lipids in the blood:

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. This is called "bad" because it can cause plaque buildup in the blood vessels.

  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. This is called "good" because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.

  • Triglycerides. These are a special form of fat your body uses to store energy. Like cholesterol, they can cause plaque buildup in the blood vessels.

Healthy Cholesterol Levels

The American Heart Association provides standards for healthy blood lipid levels. These general standards are:

  • Total cholesterol: Lower than 200

  • HDL cholesterol: 40 or higher for men, 50 or higher for women

  • LDL cholesterol: Lower than 100

  • Triglycerides: Lower than 150

You can find out your levels by having a blood test. Talk to your doctor about what levels are best for you. To find out more about cholesterol levels, visit www.heart.org/cholesterol.

Types of Cholesterol Medications

Medications can help control the amount of cholesterol in the blood. There are several types. Each controls cholesterol in a different way. Your doctor will prescribe the type that is best for you. They may be used alone or combined. The main types are:

  • Statins (HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors). Statins are thought to be the best at lowering cholesterol. They do this by keeping the body from making cholesterol. Benefits: Statins lower LDL cholesterol. They also slightly raise HDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides.

  • Selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors. These prevent the body from taking cholesterol from food. They may be prescribed for use alone or with a statin. Benefits: These medications lower LDL cholesterol. They also slightly raise HDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides.

  • Resins (also called bile acid sequestrants or bile acid-binding drugs). Resins work by binding to bile (a substance that helps the body digest food). Normally, most bile is absorbed by the body during digestion. But when bile is bound to resin, it is excreted from the body. So, the body must make more bile. To do this, the body takes cholesterol from the bloodstream. Benefits: Resins lower LDL cholesterol.

  • Fibrates (fibric acid derivatives). These reduce the amount of triglycerides the body makes. They also help to clear these lipids from the blood. Benefits: Fibrates lower triglycerides. They also raise HDL cholesterol.

  • Niacin (nicotinic acid). Niacin (vitamin B3) affects how the liver makes blood fats. (Note: Non-prescription niacin should not be used to treat cholesterol problems.) Benefits: Niacin raises HDL cholesterol. It also lowers triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids. These reduce the amount of triglycerides the body makes. They also help to clear these lipids from the blood. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many foods. These include salmon and other oily fish, and walnuts. Your doctor may prescribe these fatty acids in capsule form. Benefits: Omega-3s lower triglycerides. (Note: They may increase LDL cholesterol in some patients.)

Taking Cholesterol Medications

Take your medication exactly as your doctor instructs. This will help it work best. Here are tips for taking cholesterol medications:

  • Know when and how to take your medications. Some may need to be taken with food. Others may need to be taken on an empty stomach or at a certain time of day.

  • Stick to a schedule. Try the following:

    • Don't skip doses or stop taking your medication. This is important even if you feel better or if your cholesterol numbers improve.

    • Set things up to help you remember. For instance, work taking your medications into your routine. You could plan to take them when you get up in the morning or when you go to bed at night.

    • Keep track of what you take. You may take a few different medications. If so, a list or chart can help you take the right pills at the right time. A pillbox with days of the week or times of day is also a good tool for keeping track.

  • Prevent drug interactions. Some medications interact (affect how other drugs work when taken together). Be sure to tell your doctor about all other medications you take. This includes vitamins, herbs, and over-the-counter medications.

  • Know how to deal with side effects. Many people have side effects when they first start taking a medication. These are things like headache and stomach upset. Side effects should go away in a few weeks. Tell your doctor about any side effects you have. Certain side effects should be reported to your doctor right away. These include yellowing of the eyes and blurred vision. Also report muscle aches and breathing problems.

Note: If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, tell your doctor before taking any cholesterol medications.

A Healthy Lifestyle Can Help Too

In addition to medications, your doctor will likely suggest lifestyle changes. These can help to improve your cholesterol levels and your overall health. Your doctor can tell you more about these changes. And he or she can help you create a plan to make them part of your routine. Changes may include:

  • Healthy eating. Certain changes in eating patterns can help you lower LDL and triglyceride levels. Start by choosing healthy fats (such as olive oil) and adding fiber. Also, reduce the number of calories you eat.

  • Exercise. Daily exercise can help raise HDL levels.

  • Keeping a healthy weight. Being at a healthy weight can help raise HDL levels. It can also lower triglycerides.

  • Quitting smoking. Being smoke-free can improve your lipid levels.

Jay L. Jordan, MD, is an experienced cardiologist and internal medicine physician who provides a comprehensive range of cardiac care services in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Glendale, Burbank, Calabasas and nearby communities. Take the first step in preventing and controlling heart disease with symptoms such as angina, arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, carotid artery disease, chest pain, congestive heart failure, coronary vascular disease, hypertension, palpitations, shortness of breath and stroke. Call Dr. Jay L. Jordan at 310-854-5493 or request an appointment online.

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