Cholesterol medications: Consider the options
Medically reviewed on September 22, 2017.
A healthy lifestyle is the first defense against high cholesterol. But sometimes diet and exercise aren't enough, and you may need to take cholesterol medications. Cholesterol medications might help:
- Decrease your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol that increases the risk of heart disease
- Decrease your triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood that also increases the risk of heart disease
- Increase your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol that offers protection from heart disease
Your doctor may suggest a single drug or a combination of cholesterol medications. Here's an overview of benefits, cautions and possible side effects for common classes of cholesterol medications.
|Drug class and drug names||Benefits||Possible side effects and cautions|
|Decrease LDL and triglycerides; slightly increase HDL||Constipation, nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, cramps, muscle soreness, pain and weakness; possible interaction with grapefruit juice|
|Bile acid binding resins
|Decrease LDL||Constipation, bloating, nausea, gas|
|Cholesterol absorption inhibitor
|Decreases LDL; slightly decreases triglycerides; slightly increases HDL||Stomach pain, fatigue, muscle soreness|
|Combination cholesterol absorption inhibitor and statin
|Decreases LDL and triglycerides; increases HDL||Stomach pain, fatigue, gas, constipation, abdominal pain, cramps, muscle soreness, pain and weakness; possible interaction with grapefruit juice|
Antara, Tricor, others (fenofibrate)
|Decrease LDL and triglycerides; increase HDL||Nausea, stomach pain|
Niaspan, Niacor (prescription niacin)
|Decreases LDL and triglycerides; increases HDL||Facial and neck flushing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gout, high blood sugar, peptic ulcers, itching|
|Combination statin and niacin
|Decreases LDL and triglycerides; increases HDL||Facial and neck flushing, dizziness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating, chills; possible interaction with grapefruit juice|
|Omega-3 fatty acids
Lovaza, Omtryg (prescription omega-3 fatty acid supplement)
Vascepa (Icosapent ethyl)
|Decrease triglycerides; may increase HDL||Belching, fishy taste, indigestion|
|Combination statin and calcium channel blocker
|Decreases LDL and triglycerides; lowers blood pressure||Facial and neck flushing, dizziness, heart palpitations, muscle pain and weakness; possible interaction with grapefruit juice|
Repatha ( evolocumab)
|Decreases LDL in people who have a genetic condition that causes very high LDL levels||Itching, swelling, pain or bruising at injection site; back pain; rash; hives; swelling of nasal passages; flu|
Most cholesterol medications lower cholesterol with few side effects, but effectiveness varies from person to person. If you decide to take cholesterol medication, your doctor may recommend periodic liver function tests to monitor the medication's effect on your liver.
Remember the importance of healthy lifestyle choices. Medication can help control your cholesterol — but lifestyle matters, too.