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Understanding Cholesterol: Diagnosis and Treatment

What Are the Treatments for Cholesterol Problems? continued...

Garlic is a food item that has been shown in studies to reduce LDL cholesterol, but not other forms of cholesterol. Talk to your health care provider before using garlic or garlic supplements to lower cholesterol.

Cholesterol-lowering products. If your cholesterol is only mildly elevated, your doctor may suggest that you substitute cholesterol-lowering margarines, such Benecol and Take Control, into your diet.

Exercise. Studies show that regular exercise improves cholesterol levels.

Medical Treatments. Drug treatment for high cholesterol centers on reducing the LDL level, and the degree of LDL lowering depends on a person's risk category (based on the LDL value and a person's risk of having a heart attack within the next 10 years). These risk factors include being older than age 45 for men and age 55 for women (unless you're a woman who has gone through premature menopause), high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and a family history of cardiovascular disease.

Statin drugs are among the most widely used medicines for lowering total and LDL cholesterol. Studies have shown that they also help reduce the risk of future cardiac events. Statins available in the U.S. are: Mevacor, Altocor, Pravachol, Lescol, Zocor, Crestor, and Lipitor. These drugs work by blocking the liver's ability to produce cholesterol. Though they usually don't cause problems, in rare instances, they can cause reversible damage to the liver and muscle. Because of this, your doctor will periodically perform blood tests to check your liver function.  

Statins also carry warnings that memory loss, mental confusion, high blood sugar, and type 2 diabetes are possible side effects. It's important to remember that statins may also interact with other medications you take. 

Niacin is an alternative for some people, but to be effective it must be taken in large doses. Unfortunately, in these amounts it often causes skin flushing and upset stomach. Newer versions of niacin made to minimize these side effects may be better tolerated.  Despite its effects on cholesterol levels, an important scientific study recently found that adding niacin to statin therapy did not reduce the risk of future cardiac events.

A group of drugs called bile acid binders (cholestyramine and colestipol) may also lower total and LDL cholesterol in some people by depleting the supply of LDL cholesterol. But these drugs also have side effects -- namely bloating, gas, and constipation.

Another group of drugs called fibric acid derivatives are occasionally used to increase HDL cholesterol and lower triglyceride levels. They also mildly lower LDL.

Zetia (ezetimibe) is a drug that directly blocks the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine. Usually it is used in combination with a statin -- getting up to an additional 25% reduction of cholesterol. Zetia is also controversial, however, because of a lack of evidence that it decreases the risk of heart attack or death from heart disease.

WebMD Medical Reference

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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