People with high or excess blood cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) are at risk of severe health complications. Several medications, including statins and fibrates, are available to help lower cholesterol. Making changes to your diet and exercise regimen can also help.Blood cholesterol plays an essential role in your health. Cholesterol helps your body produce hormones and aids digestion.
However, having too much of a certain type of cholesterol is harmful. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol in the blood can cause plaque to build up in the blood vessels, leading to life threatening strokes or heart attacks.
About 38% of adults in the United States have high cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is a “good” type of cholesterol because it helps clear LDL from the body. A diagnosis of high cholesterol only refers to the amount of LDL cholesterol.
For many people with high cholesterol, making lifestyle changes can help lower their LDL levels. These changes include eating a diet low in saturated and trans fats, avoiding smoking, and exercising more.
However, some people also need medications to treat their high cholesterol. People with a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) inherit high cholesterol, and making lifestyle changes alone is often not enough to lower their LDL cholesterol levels.
This article looks at the most common cholesterol-lowering drugs that doctors prescribe, as well as potential side effects and treatment options other than statins.
Common cholesterol-lowering drugs
Cholesterol-lowering drugs work to decrease LDL cholesterol, increase HDL cholesterol, decrease triglycerides, or a combination of all of these. The primary goal of treatment is to achieve healthy levels to lower the risk of atherosclerosis, which refers to a buildup of plaque in the blood that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
There are several choices within most drug classes used to lower cholesterol. Finding the right one for you may involve some trial and error.
There are several other medications available for treating high cholesterol. Also, researchers continue to study new ways to reduce cholesterol levels. New drug molecules that will represent new classes of cholesterol-lowering medications are currently in clinical trials.
Talk with your doctor about your treatment options, including potential side effects and your individual risk factors.
Classes of cholesterol-lowering drugs
The medications that doctors prescribe to treat high cholesterol fall into several different drug classes. Each type of drug works differently to lower LDL cholesterol levels in the body.
Your doctor will talk through your treatment options and discuss potential side effects and interaction warnings.