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Cholesterol-lowering Medicine

Cholesterol medications.

If you have high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, your health care provider may prescribe medicine in addition to lifestyle changes to control your LDL cholesterol level.

Types of Cholesterol-lowering Medicine

Several types of medicines help lower LDL cholesterol. The chart below describes each type and how it works.

Type of Medicine How It Works
Statins Statin drugs lower LDL cholesterol by slowing down the liver’s production of cholesterol. They also increase the liver’s ability to remove LDL cholesterol that is already in the blood.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers advice on the risks related to taking statins:

Bile acid sequestrants Bile acid sequestrants help remove cholesterol from the blood stream by removing bile acids. The body needs bile acids and makes them by breaking down LDL cholesterol.
Niacin, or nicotinic acid Niacin is a B vitamin that can improve all lipoprotein levels. Nicotinic acid raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels while lowering total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
Fibrates Fibrates mainly lower triglycerides.
Injectable medicine A newer type of medicine called PCSK9 inhibitors lowers cholesterol.  These medicines are primarily used in people who have familial hypercholesterolemia [LINK to “Knowing Your Risk” page], a genetic condition that causes very high levels of LDL cholesterol.

All drugs may have side effects, so talk with your health care team, including your pharmacist, on a regular basis. Once your cholesterol levels have improved, your health care team will monitor them to ensure they stay in a healthy range.

Who Needs Cholesterol-lowering Medicine

Your treatment plan for high cholesterol will depend on your current cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease and stroke. Your risk for heart disease and stroke depends on other risk factors, including high blood pressure and high blood pressure treatment, smoking status, age, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level, total cholesterol level, diabetes, family history, and whether you have already had a heart attack or stroke.

Your health care provider may prescribe medicine if:

  • You have already had a heart attack or stroke, or you have peripheral arterial disease.
  • Your LDL cholesterol level is 190 mg/dL or higher.
  • You are 40–75 years old with diabetes and an LDL cholesterol level of 70 mg/dL or higher.
  • You are 40–75 years old with a high risk of developing heart disease or stroke and an LDL cholesterol level of 70 mg/dL or higher.

Talk with your health care team about how you can lower your risk for heart disease.

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