These drugs are aimed primarily at controlling LDL cholesterol levels, and your doctor will take into account your current LDL level to select the appropriate treatment. Your risk of heart disease and stroke (based on high blood pressure, smoking status, age, HDL level, and early heart disease and whether you have diabetes or existing cardiovascular disease) will also guide treatment decisions.
Types of medicine to treat high cholesterol
- Statin dugs. These work by lowering LDL cholesterol and slowing down the liver’s production of cholesterol. As well, statins can boost the liver’s ability to remove LDL cholesterol from the blood.
- Bile acid sequestrants. These drugs eliminate bile acids to help remove cholesterol from the blood. The body, which needs bile acids, will then make more and does so by breaking down LDL cholesterol. As a result, LDL levels are reduced.
- Niacin, or nicotinic acid. Niacin, a B vitamin, can help the body achieve healthy levels of all cholesterols. Nicotinic acid lowers total cholesterol, while also lowering LDL and triglyceride levels and raising HDL levels. These medicines, however, are associated with possible side effects and medical supervision is required.
- Fibrates. Fibrates are mainly intended to lower triglyceride levels but can also raise HDL levels.
There is good news about healthy cholesterol levels among Americans: according to the CDC, cholesterol levels have been decreasing in recent decades. Lifestyle changes, including avoiding foods high in saturated or trans fats or high in cholesterol, maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, and not smoking can continue to keep cholesterol at healthy levels among the U.S. population.
See “Diet and Cholesterol” above for a list of substances in foods and examples of foods that may contribute to high cholesterol levels, as well as examples of foods to help you maintain healthy levels. Avoiding cholesterol-raising foods and choosing foods that help control or lower cholesterol will help you keep your cholesterol at healthy levels.
Maintain a healthy weight—being overweight or obese may raise total cholesterol levels, while raising LDL cholesterol and lowering HDL cholesterol. Your doctor can help you determine whether you’re overweight, and, if so, what your optimal, healthy weight should be.
You can help manage your cholesterol levels by staying active. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, which will help to control your cholesterol levels. According to the Surgeon General, you should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days of the week.
Smoking, in addition to raising your risk of lung cancer and several other cancers, raises your risk of heart disease and stroke by damaging the blood vessels and hardening the arteries. If you do smoke, your doctor can help you find a program to help you quit. Also, be aware of secondhand smoke, another risk of heart attack and stroke.