Medications Available for High Cholesterol
While most people can rely on eating right and exercising to keep their cholesterol levels in check, some people’s bodies are just not able to process cholesterol as effectively. This can leave the body with an unhealthy level of cholesterol in the blood. In these cases, health care providers may need to prescribe some form of high cholesterol medication. If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, medical researchers are currently looking for new participants for a high cholesterol clinical trial.
Deciding the appropriate course of treatment can be difficult, since no two cases of high cholesterol can be treated in the exact same way. Doctors must choose which drugs or combination of medications will work best for their patients based on a number of factors that are specific to that case (personal risk factors, age, allergies, established adverse reactions to medications, and their overall state of health). All of the following forms of medication can be used to help lower high cholesterol:
Currently, statins are the most widely used drugs for cases of high cholesterol. This type of medication helps to block the particular substance that the liver uses to produce more cholesterol. Over a course of treatment with statins, the liver will even begin to remove more of the cholesterol from the patient’s bloodstream. Hopefully, the statins will allow the patient’s body to dispose of some of the excess cholesterol that has begun to form harmful plaque along the walls of the arteries (this is a serious risk factor for atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke).
Here is a list of the statins that are available for people with high cholesterol:
- Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
- Lovastatin (Altoprev, Mevacor)
- Fluvastatin (Lescol)
- Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
- Pravastatin (Pravachol)
- Simvastatin (Zocor)
Our livers have the ability to produce enough cholesterol for our body to survive, and this cholesterol is essential for a number of bodily functions. In fact, one of the things that the liver will do with cholesterol is use to in the production of bile acids, an important part of our digestion. Well, one form of high cholesterol medication, known as bile-acid-binding resins, can be used to indirectly lower cholesterol levels by binding with the bile acids. When taken in combination with other high cholesterol medication, the liver will be forced to use more of the excess cholesterol in order to produce more bile acids.
Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors
The small intestine is capable of absorbing most of the cholesterol that is brought in from outside sources and releasing it into the bloodstream. If you have high cholesterol, this can create a major barrier to bringing your cholesterol back to a healthier level. A cholesterol absorption inhibitor will inhibit the small intestine’s ability to absorb more cholesterol, which should help reduce overall cholesterol in time. Absorption inhibitors, like the drug ezetimibe (Zetia), are often prescribed in combination with some form of statin.
Combination of Statins and Cholesterol Inhibitors
As mentioned earlier, health care providers may decide to start their patients on a combination of cholesterol absorption inhibitors and statins. A fully developed combination drug like ezetimibe-simvastatin (Vytorin) can limit the production of cholesterol in the liver, while also prohibiting the small intestine from absorbing cholesterol from food at the same time. However, there is still some debate over whether taking a combination of drugs (like Vytorin) is actually working better for their heart than taking the statin drug on its own.
Fibrates will prohibit the liver’s production of a specific type of cholesterol, very low density lipoproteins (VLDL), which in turn will help to reduce the level of triglycerides in the patient’s blood stream. Since VLDL cholesterol is actually quite abundant in triglycerides, this type of drug works by speeding up the rate at which these triglycerides are removed from the bloodstream. Most patients who take fibrates for high cholesterol will be prescribed gemfibrozil (Lopid) and fenofibrate (TriCor, Lofibra)
This form of high cholesterol medication is actually quite similar to fibrates, meaning that they too will help to lower triglyceride levels (only they prohibit the production of VLDL and LDL cholesterol in the liver). Niacin (marketed as Niaspan) is currently available by prescription, or there is a similar version that is sold over-the-counter. Some dietary supplements are available which contain niacin, however these are usually not recommended due to reported side effects.
Most of the drugs listed above have been well tolerated by patients, but research has shown that they may not work as well for every person. The most common side effects that people have reported after taking medication for high cholesterol include: nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, and muscle cramps. Depending on your medical history, your doctor may want to closely monitor the health of your liver while you are taking your medication.