What medications are available to treat high cholesterol?
There are four classes of medication that can lower cholesterol levels including statins, niacin, bile acid resins, and fibric acid derivatives.
- A variety of statin drugs are on the market including simvastatin (Zocor), atorvastatin (Lipitor), pravastatin (Pravachol), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Mevacor), and rosuvastatin (Crestor). These drugs primarily decrease LDL.
- Cholestyramine (Questran) is a bile acid resin and decreases LDL.
- Fibric acid resins lower LDL and include gemfibrozil (Lopid) and fenofibrate (Tricor).
- Niaspan is the prescription form of niacin and decreases LDL and triglycerides as well as increases HDL.
- Alirocumab (Praluent) and evolocumab (Repatha) are two new medications that are antibodies to a protein, PCSK9. These drugs are indicated in patients who have had heart attack or stroke or have familial hypercholesterolemia and are taking maximum therapy and continue to have high LDL cholesterol levels in their blood.
The choice as to what medication is most appropriate is usually individualized by the health care professional in discussion with the patient. These medications often need to be adjusted and monitored for side effects.
While all four medication groups may have a role in controlling cholesterol levels in association with diet, exercise, and smoking cessation, only statins are shown to decrease the risk of heart attack.
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend that statin therapy may benefit patients with a history of heart attack, those with elevated blood LDL cholesterol levels or type two diabetes, and a those with a 10-year risk of heart disease greater than 7.5%. Calculate your risk online with the American Heart Association's CV Risk Calculator.
When monitoring how well statin therapy works, the goal is no longer to reach a specific blood cholesterol level. Instead patients with a high risk of heart disease will aim to decrease their cholesterol levels by 50% and those with a lesser risk will aim to lower their cholesterol levels by 30% to 50%.