Why Doctors Prescribe Cholesterol Drugs

Get the facts about high cholesterol and drugs that can lower it.

You might be wondering why your doctor prescribed a cholesterol-lowering medication for you. Or maybe you and your doctor are considering starting treatment with a cholesterol drug because diet and exercise alone have not lowered your cholesterol enough. You are probably wondering why it is so important to start taking cholesterol medications when you don’t feel sick. Here are some basic facts about cholesterol and cholesterol-lowering drugs.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs to produce hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help digest fat. It only takes a small amount of cholesterol in the blood to meet these needs. When you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it accumulates on the walls of your arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. There are no symptoms of high cholesterol, which is why it is so important for you to take your cholesterol-lowering medication exactly as prescribed.

Cholesterol Facts and Statistics

  • Approximately one out of every six adult Americans has high blood cholesterol, which is about 17 percent of the U.S. adult population.
  • A total cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL or greater is consider high cholesterol.
  • The average cholesterol level for U.S. adults is approximately 200 mg/dL, which is considered borderline high-risk.
  • The ideal total cholesterol level is less than 200 mg/dL.
  • Having high cholesterol doubles your risk for developing heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
  • You can reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease by lowering your cholesterol.
  • High cholesterol occurs in people of all ages and backgrounds. It is more common in women than men in the United States.

Who Takes Cholesterol Drugs

Cholesterol drugs are most often times prescribed to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease and cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the main goal of cholesterol-lowering drugs is to lower your cholesterol levels enough to reduce your risk for having a heart attack or other diseases caused by hardening of your arteries. More specifically, it is extremely important to lower your level of low-density lipoprotein, commonly referred to as LDL or “bad” cholesterol. In general, the higher your LDL levels and the more risk factors you have, the greater your risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack or stroke.

High cholesterol is not the only risk factor for heart disease. Other major risk factors include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol
  • Family history of early coronary heart disease
  • Age (for men, being over 45 years of age; for women, over 55)

Your doctor may prescribe cholesterol drugs for you if you have:

  • High LDL cholesterol levels
  • Borderline high LDL cholesterol levels and multiple risk factors for heart disease
  • Established heart disease
  • High total cholesterol
  • High triglyceride levels
  • Low HDL cholesterol levels

Types of Cholesterol Drugs

There are five main classes of medications used to treat high cholesterol. Your doctor will prescribe the medication or combination of medications that best targets the part of your cholesterol profile that needs improvement.

The classes of cholesterol-lowering medications are:

  • Statins
  • Fibric acid derivatives
  • Nicotinic acid
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitor
  • Bile acid sequestrants

Cholesterol-lowering drugs control, but do not cure, your high cholesterol. You have to continue to take your cholesterol medication to keep your cholesterol levels in the desired range. If you stop taking your cholesterol medication, your cholesterol levels probably will become elevated once again.

Learn more about cholesterol at PDR Health.

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