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What medications treat high cholesterol?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

A variety of medications aim to lower high cholesterol in different ways. Statins block an ingredient your liver needs to make cholesterol and are the most popular drug. Bile-acid-binding resins help your liver to use up more cholesterol and prevent it from collecting in your blood. Cholesterol absorption inhibitors stop your small intestines from accepting cholesterol and distributing it to your blood stream. Fibrates and niacin lower triglyceride levels by slowing the production of LDL and VLDL cholesterol.

There are six medications in the statin class of drugs available to lower high cholesterol, including atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Mevacor, Altoprev), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin calcium (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor). Statins are most effective at lowering low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, but they may also have modest effects on raising high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and lowering triglycerides. Statins are the most frequently prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs, but there are other types of cholesterol-lowering drugs available, including bile acid sequestrants (resins), fibrates and cholesterol absorption inhibitors.

Sometimes changes in your diet, changes in your lifestyle and an increase in exercise are not enough to reduce your cholesterol.

If that is your situation, your doctor may consider prescribing medication to lower your cholesterol. The decision to medicate a patient is often based on high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Medication might be prescribed, for example, if your LDL level is high. If your LDL level is borderline but you have several risk factors for heart disease, your doctor also might put you on medication.

Drugs to reduce LDL blood levels can prevent the build-up of artery-blocking plaques. These medications also can limit the possibility of those plaques from breaking away into the blood as dangerous clots.

Several types of drugs can help reduce blood cholesterol levels. The most commonly prescribed by doctors are the statins, HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, including: lovastatin (brand name Mevacor), simvastatin (brand name Zocor) and atorvastatin (brand name Lipitor).

These drugs work inside the liver to prevent the formation of cholesterol. They can lower bad cholesterol levels by as much as 40 percent.

Another major drug category is resins. These bind bile acids which causes the liver to produce more of them. In the process, the liver uses up cholesterol. Resins include: cholestyramine (brand name Questran) and colestipol (brand name Colestid).

High doses of the B vitamin Niacin, also can lower triglycerides and LDL levels and increase good cholesterol (HDL) levels.

Last are the drugs in the fibrates category. These lower triglycerides and can increase HDL levels. Fibrates include: gemfibrozil (brand name Lopid) and fenofibrate (brand name Tricor).

The decision to take medication to reduce cholesterol or lipids is not taken lightly by your doctor. The drugs can be expensive and often are required for many years—possibly even the rest of your life. Some of these drugs, you need to know, can have dangerous side effects, such as liver damage.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.