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Do I need to stay on cholesterol drugs forever?

Internist, WebMD Medical Expert
Emory University

Abnormal cholesterol levels are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes). Although many people with high cholesterol will never develop cardiovascular disease, it’s impossible to accurately predict who will and who won’t.

The first treatment for anyone with abnormal and potentially unhealthy cholesterol levels (dyslipidemia) is to make healthy lifestyle changes. This means exercise most days of the week, eat a heart-healthy diet, and do not smoke. For people at average risk, these actions together are effective at preventing heart attack and stroke.

However, most people with dyslipidemia find it difficult to improve their cholesterol numbers into the normal range with lifestyle changes alone. And LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels tend to rise with age.

The question of whether to treat dyslipidemia with a cholesterol medication, like a statin, is complex and depends on your expected risk for heart disease, as well as your own preferences. If you’ve already had a heart attack or stroke, lowering high cholesterol is extremely important. A statin may be recommended long-term to prevent another event. You and your doctor can decide if long-term treatment for dyslipidemia is the best option for you.