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Heart Disease and Lowering Cholesterol

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What Drugs Are Used to Treat High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol-lowering drugs include:

  • Statins
  • Niacin
  • Bile-acid resins
  • Fibric acid derivatives
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors

Cholesterol-lowering medicine is most effective when combined with a low-cholesterol diet and exercise program.

Statins
Statins block the production of cholesterol in the liver itself. They lower LDL, the "bad" cholesterol, and triglycerides and have a mild effect in raising HDL, the "good" cholesterol. These drugs are the first line of treatment for most people with high cholesterol. 

Statins 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. 

Examples of statins include:

  • Altocor, Altoprev, Mevacor (lovastatin)
  • Crestor (rosuvastatin)
  • Lescol (fluvastatin)
  • Lipitor (atorvastatin)
  • Livalo (pitavastatin)
  • Pravachol (pravastatin)
  • Zocor (simvastatin)

Advicor and Simcor are both combinations of a statin and niacin (see below).

Caduet is a combination of a statin (Lipitor) and a blood pressure-lowering drug called Norvasc. Vytorin is a combination of a statin and a cholesterol absorption inhibitor (simvastatin and ezetimibe).

Niacin
Niacin is a B-complex vitamin. It's found in food, but is also available at high doses by prescription. It lowers LDL cholesterol and raises HDL cholesterol. These drugs also lower elevated triglycerides. The main side effects are flushing, itching, tingling, and headache, yet aspirin can reduce many of these symptoms. However, speak with your doctor first. Niacin or nicotinic acid, includes the brand names Niacor, Niaspan, or Slo-niacin. Over-the-counter preparations include extended-release, timed-release, and controlled-release. Niacin found in dietary supplements should not be used to lower cholesterol. Your doctor or lipid specialist will let you know if niacin is appropriate for you. Recent research suggests that niacin may improve cholesterol numbers, but may not be associated with prevention of heart attacks.

Bile Acid Sequestrants
These drugs work inside the intestine, where they bind to bile and prevent it from being reabsorbed into the circulatory system. Bile is made largely from cholesterol, so these drugs work by reducing the body's supply of cholesterol, thus lowering total and LDL cholesterol. The most common side effects are constipation, gas, and upset stomach. Examples of bile acid resins include:

  • Colestid (colestipol)
  • Questran and Questran Light (cholestyramine)
  • WelChol (colesevelam)
Next Article:

What is your biggest heart disease risk factor?