We all know the benefits of lowering our cholesterol: lower risk of heart attack, heart disease, stroke, and coronary artery disease. For people who need to lower their cholesterol by 5 to 10 percent, simply adopting a heart-healthy diet and increasing exercise can get the job done. But for people who need to see a 30 percent or more decrease in their LDL cholesterol or triglycerides, a doctor may recommend a cholesterol-lowering medication. But before your head to the pharmacy, make sure you are prescribed the medication that is right for your particular cholesterol needs. Check out the comparison of the 5 major types of cholesterol medicines before you make your final decision.
Examples: Crestor, Lipitor, Lescol, Mevacor, Pravachol, Zocor
Good for: Lowering LDL and triglyceride levels; mild affect on increasing HDL levels
How it works: Statins block liver production of cholesterol, forcing your body to pull from LDL supplies in the blood to use as raw material. The lower LDL present in the blood stream, the lower the chance for LDL to promote hardening and clogging of the arteries.
Risks: Statins do not have a significant impact on increasing HDL. Side effects include intestinal problems, liver damage, and muscle soreness. People with a history of liver problems are at increased risk for complications.
Yearly Cost: $500 - $1500
Type: Niacins Examples: Nicolar, Niaspan Good for: Lowering LDL by 15% and increasing HDL levels by 20% How it works: Nicontinic acid is a B-complex vitamin found in foods but also available in concentrated doses by prescription. Combining niacin with a statin increases its positive effects. Risks: Side effects include flushing, itching, tingling, and headache. Yearly Cost: $100- $1400Type: Bile acid resins Examples: Questran, Questran Light, Colestid, WelChol Good for: Lowering LDL by 15-20% How it works: These drugs work inside the intestine by latching onto bile from the liver and preventing it from being reabsorbed into the blood. Because of the high concentration of cholesterol in bile, preventing reabsorption forces the body to pull cholesterol from the blood stream instead of producing excess LDL. Risks: The most common side effects are digestive, including constipation, gas, and upset stomach. People with digestive problems are at increased risk for complications. Yearly Cost: $400-$1700Type: Fibrates Examples: Atromid, Tricor, Lopid Good for: Lowering triglyceride and increasing HDL levels How it works: Fibrates increase the effectiveness of enzymes in the blood that break down fat and causes your body to excrete more of the fats that your body produces. Risks: Some studies suggested that fibrates can increase levels of LDL. Fibrates can increase your risk for gallstones so those with gall bladder disease are at increased risk. Side effects include chest pain, fatigue, headache, and muscle pain. Yearly Cost: $200- $1100
Type: Cholesterol absorption inhibitors Examples: Ezetimibe, Zetia Good for: Lowering LDL by 20% How it works: These drugs block the cholesterol in the food you eat from being absorbed through the intestinal wall and into the blood stream. Risks: Side effects include stomach pain, diarrhea, fatigue, and headache. Yearly Cost: $900The best defense against cholesterol includes diet and exercise, but medication can help trim off LDL or increase HDL for people with dangerously high levels. Talk to your doctor about all of your options before choosing the best course of action for your health and lifestyle needs.