Medication image courtesy of Flickr/littledebbie11

Many people hear from their doctor that their cholesterol is too high and that they must start taking medication for it. They take their prescription and they fill it at the drugstore (or save some money by ordering it online), but how many people understand how medication lowers cholesterol? How many people know what cholesterol medication does? What else can you do to help lower your cholesterol? The following is a guide on how medication treats high cholesterol.

Wait, what is cholesterol?

To understand how medications treat high cholesterol, we first need to understand what cholesterol is and what it does. Cholesterol is a wax-like substance that flows through your veins in your blood. It builds, protects, and maintains your cell membranes, making it essential for your body. Cholesterol is also needed for your body to be able to produce hormones, Vitamin D, and digestive enzymes. However, when you have too much cholesterol, it sticks to the inside of your arteries and begins building up. This can lead to damage to your arteries and veins as the cholesterol hardens (a condition called Atherosclerosis), or it can actually begin to block arteries altogether, causing angina (chest pain), heart attack, or stroke.

There are two major types of cholesterol that you may already be aware of: LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is low-density lipoprotein, which is commonly referred to as the bad cholesterol because it is the kind of cholesterol that builds up and blocks blood vessels. HDL cholesterol is high-density lipoprotein, commonly called the good cholesterol because it actually does the opposite of LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol travels your body, removing LDL cholesterol deposits and cleaning your arteries.

Many people can lower their cholesterol levels by simply eating a healthier diet and getting more exercise. Unfortunately, even after significant changes in lifestyle, many people cannot reduce their cholesterol levels enough to lower their risk of heart or stroke. Moreover, many people cannot change their diets or begin a vigorous exercise regime due to other health-related issues. This is where medication comes in.

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Statin Drugs

Statins are not only one of the most commonly prescribed types of medication for treating high cholesterol, but they are also some of the most widely prescribed medications in the world. A Statin drug is a medication that prevents an enzyme in your liver from producing cholesterol. In other words, Statins limit your body's ability to increase your cholesterol levels and therefore reduce your overall cholesterol. Statins are so widely prescribed because they are one of the only class of drugs that have been found to significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks, stroke, and cardiovascular disease in those with high cholesterol. This does not mean that you can ignore healthy eating habits and start digging into endless amounts of cookies, chips, and pizza, however.

The most common side effects of taking statin medications include headache, drowsiness, nausea, difficulty sleeping, muscles aches and pains, weakness, cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation, and rash. Despite this seemingly long list of potential side effects, most people do not experience any side effects at all when taking a statin medication. Not only that, but the common side effects of Statins are generally mild and should not disrupt your daily living.

These medications are called Statins because their names usually contain “statin” in them. The following medications are examples of Statin medications that you can order or read more about on You! Drugstore:

Atorvastatin and Lipitor

Rosuvastatin and Crestor

Simvastatin and Zocor

Lovastatin and Mevacor

Pravastatin and Pravachol

Lescol XL (Fluvastatin)

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Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors

These drugs are a relatively new class of medications that treat high cholesterol. Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors are becoming more and more popular and are increasingly being prescribed by doctors. These medications are effective at lowering cholesterol, and may also have other added benefits. For example, some studies have shown that taking Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors can also reduce triglyceride levels while increasing HDL cholesterol. Remember, HDL cholesterol is the “good” kind of cholesterol that helps remove LDL cholesterol, the “bad” kind of cholesterol. However, this unfortunately does not mean that these medications cure high cholesterol or repair any damage that your high cholesterol may have caused.

The side effects you may experience while taking a Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitor include stomach ache, diarrhea, tiredness, fatigue, drowsiness, and headache. These are the most common side effects of taking these types of medications, but they do not usually occur. In fact, if these side effects do occur, they are usually just a sign that your body is adjusting to the medication and they will eventually go away.

Currently, the most commonly prescribed Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitor is Zetia (Ezetrol) and its generic version, Ezetimibe. If you have high cholesterol and a valid prescription, you can purchase Zetia/Ezetrol or generic Ezetimibe from You! Drugstore.

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Resins (Bile Acid Sequestrants)

Resins that lower cholesterol are another type of drug therapy for high cholesterol. Resins that treat high cholesterol are sometimes referred to as bile acid sequestrants or bile acid-binding drugs. Although they are not prescribed quite as often as Statins, Resins are considered to be an effective alternative to Statins for lowering cholesterol. These drugs lower your cholesterol levels by helping to remove cholesterol from your body. Your body uses cholesterol to produce bile, which is necessary for food digestion. Resins work by binding to the bile in your intestines, preventing it from being used during digestion. This signals your liver to start producing more bile for digestion, which in turn causes your body to use up more of its cholesterol. The result is a depletion of cholesterol in your body, and an overall drop in your cholesterol levels.

Because these medications activate and stay in the gut, they do not tend to cause many side effects. However, when you take Bile Acid Sequestrants, you may experience issues with your gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). These issues can include bloating, flatulence, constipation or diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Typically, side effects from taking Resins for high cholesterol are mild if you do experience them.

An example of a Resin for lowering high cholesterol is Colestid, which you can buy here at You! Drugstore.

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Niacin (Nicotinic Acid)

This type of medication works in a similar way to how Statins treat high cholesterol. As previously mentioned, Statins lower cholesterol levels by preventing your body from producing as much cholesterol. Nicotinic Acid prevents your body from producing triglycerides and VLDL cholesterol. VLDL cholesterol is very low-density lipoprotein which your body turns into the “bad” LDL cholesterol. By preventing your body from producing as much VLDL cholesterol and triglycerides, your overall cholesterol and triglyceride levels will decrease to a healthier range. Doctors often prescribe Niacin because it is also known to raise “good” HDL cholesterol more than most other medications that lower high cholesterol.

Taking Nicotinic Acid can sometimes cause flushing or redness of the skin, itchiness, dizziness, headache, and diarrhea. These are the most common side effects of using Niacin, although most people do not experience any side effects at all. If you do experience these side effects, they are typically mild and are simply a sign that your body is adjusting to your medication.

You can buy Nicotinic Acid medications such as generic Niacin, Niaspan, and Niaspan FCT from You! Drugstore.

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Fibric Acid Derivatives

Fibric Acid Derivatives are another commonly prescribed type of medication that can be used to treat high cholesterol, but they do not work in the same way that most other medications work to lower cholesterol levels. Instead of lowering LDL cholesterol directly, Fibric Acid Derivatives, or Fibrates, generally lower your triglyceride levels and increase your HDL cholesterol. This helps treat high cholesterol because, as mentioned above, HDL cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol that helps remove the “bad” LDL cholesterol from your blood vessels and other parts of your body that it does not belong. Fibrates are typically prescribed as an alternative or addition to Statin medications.

When you take Fibrates that lower cholesterol, you may experience a number of possible side effects. Headache, upset stomach, gas, heartburn, diarrhea or constipation, fatigue, and drowsiness are all common side effects of taking Fibric Acid Derivatives. Keep in mind that if you do experience any side effects, they do not generally require a doctor's attention unless they become severe or long-lasting. More serious side effects of taking these kinds of medications include fever, muscle pain, nausea or vomiting, severe fatigue, and allergic reactions.

You! Drugstore offers a number of Fibrate medications that treat high cholesterol, including Lipidil, Fenofibrate, and Gemfibrozil. If you have a prescription, you can order your high cholesterol medication from You! Drugstore at the same prices they pay in Canada.

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PCSK9 Inhibitors

These medications are the newest class of drugs that have been shown to lower high cholesterol. PCSK9, or proprotein convertase subtilisin kexin 9, is an enzyme that binds to low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol). When PCSK9 binds to LDL cholesterol, your body is unable to break down the LDL cholesterol and remove it from your blood. By inhibiting PCSK9, your body will be able to remove much more LDL cholesterol, which results in a dramatic drop in cholesterol levels. These medications are administered by injection and have been shown to help those with more stubborn cholesterol levels.

Because PCSK9 Inhibitors are a new class of drugs, not all side effects may have been reported. However, these medications have been shown to be well-tolerated. Side effects that have been reported include nasopharyngitis, flu, itchiness, pain at the site of injection, and severe allergic reactions. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience an allergic reaction to any medication.