Your Quick Guide to Cholesterol Meds

If you have high cholesterol and diet and exercise aren't getting your levels back into the safety zone, your doctor may prescribe a cholesterol medication to help you get the situation under control.

Goals of Cholesterol Medications

There are a number of different types of prescription cholesterol treatments currently on the market. Most share the goals of lowering "bad" cholesterol (LDL), raising "good" cholesterol (HGL), and keeping triglycerides (a fatty substance in your blood) in the healthy range. Your doctor can determine which medication, or combination of medications, is best for your needs.

Cholesterol Medication Overview

Here is a brief overview of some of the more common cholesterol medicines in use today:

  • Statins (The generic versions include Atorvastatin, Fluvastatin, Lovastatin, Pravastatin, Simvastatin, and Rosuvastatin): Statins are a common choice for high cholesterol. They work by blocking a chemical reaction in your liver to slow down the production of cholesterol. Statins also absorb bad cholesterol, helping to reduce the risk of artery blockages that can lead to cardiac problems. Some people taking statins experience side effects, including muscle aches, stomach distress, memory problems, and in rare cases, liver damage. It's important to avoid grapefruit products while taking statins, since they can interfere with the drug's effectiveness.
  • Nicotinic Acid (Commonly sold as niacin and vitamin B3): Nicotinic acid works to reduce the production of bad cholesterol and triglycerides in your liver, while increasing good cholesterol for the healthiest balance for your heart. Nicotinic Acid is sold both over-the-counter and by prescription and comes in several different forms, including those engineered to take effect immediately, ones with a timed release, and options that release their benefits over a more drawn-out period. It's important to know that you can also buy vitamin B over the counter, but experts warn against using this medication without your doctor's guidance. This is because nicotinic acid can cause some serious side effects, including flushing of the skin, tingling, upset stomach, headache, and peptic ulcers. It can also interfere with blood pressure medication.
  • Bile-acid resins (The generic versions include arecolestipol HCl, cholestyramine, and colesevelam HCL): Since bile is made from cholesterol, bile-acid resins work to lower your bad cholesterol levels by attaching to the bile and preventing it from being used by your body. In return for the benefits they bring, some of the side effects of bile-acid resins include gas, nausea, bloating, and hemorrhoids.
  • Fibric acid derivatives (The generic names are gemflbrozil and clofibrate): This medication, also known as fibrates, puts into motion a very complicated chain reaction that acts on the liver to reduce your triglyceride levels. It also has a moderate effect on improving good cholesterol levels. Some people take fibric acid along with statins, since the two seem to work well together. Possible side effects of fibrates include stomach ailments, rashes, muscle aches, and liver and gall bladder problems.
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors (Sold as ezetimibe): This works by preventing the intestines from absorbing cholesterol and releasing it into the liver, thereby reducing bad cholesterol levels. Often this cholesterol medication is combined with statins for the best results. Side effects can include stomach ailments, dizziness, headaches, runny nose, and muscle weakness and pain.

A Final Note About Cholesterol Treatments

It's important to remember that most of these cholesterol treatments aren't meant to take the place of a healthy lifestyle. Rather, you'll want to use these drugs in conjunction with eating a diet low in saturated and trans fats and engaging in a regular exercise routine in order to achieve the best results.


American Heart Association. "Drug Therapy for Cholesterol." 14 Jun 2012. "High Cholesterol. Cholesterol-Lowering Medications." American Academy of Family Physicians. Jan. 2011. Web. 22 July 2012.

MayoClinic. "Cholesterol Medications: Consider the Options." 21 July 2010. Web. 22 July 2012.