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High Cholesterol Treatment -- What Works?

Safe, effective treatment for high cholesterol isn't hard -- but it can be confusing. Get the facts.

Medications as High Cholesterol Treatments continued...

As with any drug, there are side effects. They can cause muscle aches, an increase in liver enzymes, and other issues. But the risks are low and it's important to keep them in perspective.

"On one hand, statins can reduce your risk of death, heart attack, stroke by 30-35%," says Sperling. "On the other, they pose a 1-2% risk of generally mild side effects." The benefits are often worth the small risk, Sperling says.

Although they tend to be overshadowed by statins, other medicines are also important high cholesterol treatments instead of, or in addition to, statins. They include:

  • Bile acid resins like Colestid, Lo-Cholest, Prevalite, Questran, and WelChol. They stick to cholesterol in the intestines and prevent it from being absorbed. They can lower LDL cholesterol by 15-30%.
  • Ezetimibe (Zetia) blocks some of the cholesterol from being absorbed by your body. It can lower LDL levels by 18-25%.
  • Fibric acid like Antara, Atromid, Lopid, and Tricor. They reduce your triglycerides and may give a mild boost to your HDL.
  • Niacin, available as Niacor, Niaspan, and Nicolar. Niacin modestly lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and can raise HDL cholesterol at low doses. LDL levels are usually cut by 5-15%.
  • A combination medicine like ezetimibe with simvastatin (Vytorin) which uses a statin to block production of cholesterol and ezetimibe to prevent cholesterol from being absorbed.

Remember that medicines aren't right for everyone. Since they're often taken for life, you and your doctor need to carefully discuss whether you should use them.

Do Alternative High Cholesterol Treatments Work?

While lifestyle changes and medicines have been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, the same can't always be said for many alternative treatments. Some of the various supplements and herbs that have been touted as high cholesterol treatments are garlic, policosanol, and guggul.

While a few studies of garlic have found a modest benefit, a recent study of policosanol found no effect. However, none of these studies have been large enough to be definitive, experts say.

Keep in mind that, unlike medications, herbal products are not regulated by the FDA. They are not evaluated to see if they work. They could also interact with other medicines you use.

"You just don't know what you're getting when you buy these products," says Wong. So if you want to take an alternative high cholesterol treatment, be sure to talk to your doctor.

Sticking to Your High Cholesterol Treatments

Many people find that their dedication to lowering their cholesterol fades over time. When they're first diagnosed, they're gung ho. They go on a diet and train like marathon runners. But after a few months, they get complacent. Their low-cholesterol cookbooks gather dust and their gym membership card lies in a sock drawer.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Is Your Cholesterol Level Heart Healthy?
What is your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) level?

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or
Answer:
Desirable
0-199
Borderline
200-239
High
240+

Your level is currently

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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