Drugs Prescribed for High Cholesterol
The best way to protect yourself from developing high cholesterol is to maintain a healthy diet and be sure to get regular exercise. However, there are some people whose bodies aren’t capable of processing the level of cholesterol that they naturally produce, so they remain a little too high. In those cases, their doctor will most likely recommend some form of medication for their high cholesterol.
Now, no two cases of high cholesterol can be treated the exact same way, so the specific choice of medication or combination of drugs will depend on a number of factors specific to that individual (factors will include the patient’s age, personal risk factors, current state of health, and possible adverse reactions to the drugs prescribed). Here is a list of common drugs used to lower cholesterol levels:
Statins are amongst the most commonly prescribed drugs for people with high cholesterol. This form of medication works by prohibiting the substance that your liver needs in order to produce more cholesterol. As a result, the liver will actually remove some cholesterol from the patient’s blood stream. In some cases, these statins can help the body reabsorb some of the cholesterol that has begun to build up along the walls of the arteries (a serious risk factor for coronary artery disease and stroke).
Statins that are currently available for patients:
- Fluvastatin (Lescol)
- Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
- Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
- Lovastatin (Altoprev, Mevacor)
- Simvastatin (Zocor)
- Pravastatin (Pravachol)
Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors
The small intestine can absorb much of the cholesterol that is taken in through food and then release it into the bloodstream. For some struggling with their cholesterol levels, this can be a serious obstacle to maintaining healthier overall levels. Cholesterol absorption inhibitors, like the drug ezetimibe (Zetia), will limit the small intestine’s ability to absorb dietary cholesterol and this can help reduce overall cholesterol levels. In addition, absorption inhibitors like Zetia can be taken in combination with any of the statin drugs available.
As mentioned earlier, the liver is responsible for producing the cholesterol that your body uses. One of the other things that your liver uses this cholesterol for is making bile acids, which are an essential substance for digestion. High cholesterol drugs like colesevelam (Welchol), cholestyramine (Prevalite, Questran), and colestipol (Colestid) are known as bile-acid-binding resins, because they can help lower cholesterol indirectly by binding to the bile acids. This will force the liver to use the excess cholesterol in order to produce more bile acids, and eventually the overall level of cholesterol in the blood stream will decrease.
Combination Treatment: Statins and Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors
Doctors may choose to prescribe a combination of statin drugs and cholesterol absorption inhibitors for some of their patients with high cholesterol. The combination drug ezetimibe-simvastatin (Vytorin) will decrease the absorption of cholesterol from food in the small intestine, and it will also limit the production of cholesterol in the liver. However, health care providers are still unsure whether Vytorin is better at reducing the risk of heart disease than taking the simvastatin on its own.
There are also some medications prescribed for people who have an unhealthy level of triglycerides.
Medications like fenofibrate (TriCor, Lofibra) and gemfibrozil (Lopid) can lower the level of triglycerides in a patient by reducing the liver’s production of a certain type of cholesterol, the very low density lipoproteins (VLDL). These drugs will also accelerate the rate at which triglycerides are removed from the blood stream. VLDL cholesterol is actually very rich in triglycerides.
Niacin (sold as Niaspan), while similar to fibrates, will work to lower triglyceride levels by prohibiting the liver’s ability to produce both VLDL and LDL cholesterol. This form of high triglceride drug is available by prescription and over-the-counter, however most patients prefer to get the prescribed version as it has less reported side effects. While there are also some dietary supplements available which contain niacin, these should be avoided as they are not very effective and can cause liver damage.
Most drugs used to lower cholesterol levels are well-tolerated by patients, but studies have shown that their effectiveness will vary depending upon the person. The most common side effects from these drugs include stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle cramps. If you are planning on taking some form of medication for your high cholesterol, then your doctor may also recommend routine liver function screenings in order to closely monitor the effects of the drugs on the liver.