Medicine for Cholesterol Control

Cholesterol is a waxy substance in your bloodstream. If there is too much of it in your blood, it can build up in the walls of your arteries. Over time, this buildup can lead to coronary disease. Coronary disease can put you at risk for a heart attack or stroke. It can also put you at risk for disease of the arteries in your legs and other places in your body. Medicine can give you the extra help you need to control your cholesterol.

Close up of senior man taking a pill with a glass of water.

How medicine helps

Different kinds of medicines help with cholesterol levels. Some help lower your LDL (bad cholesterol). Some help raise your HDL (good cholesterol). Other medicines lower your triglyceride levels. And some do all three. It may take some time to find the right medicine for you. Taking medicine will be only one part of your cholesterol control plan. You will still need to eat right and get regular exercise.

Talk with your healthcare provider to find out your risks for having a heart attack. Your provider can tell you what goals to use to see if your treatment is working. These goals may vary based on your health issues or family history. Also ask your provider how often your cholesterol should be checked as part of your treatment plan. You may need to fast before getting your cholesterol checked.

Taking your medicine

It is important to:

  • Tell your healthcare provider about any other medicines you take. This includes over-the-counter medicines. It also includes vitamins and herbs.

  • Take your medicine exactly as directed. This helps make sure that it works as it should.

  • Don't skip a dose.

  • Don't stop taking it if you feel better.

  • Don't stop taking it when your cholesterol numbers improve.

  • Order your refill before your medicine runs out.

Side effects

Medicines can cause side effects. These often occur at the start of taking a new medicine. Side effects can include headache and upset stomach. Rarely you can have muscle aches. Tell your healthcare provider about any side effects you have.

When to call your healthcare provider

When taking your medicine, let your healthcare provider know if you have:

  • Yellowing of the whites of eyes

  • Blurred vision

  • Muscle aches

  • Trouble breathing

High-risk groups

Some people may need to take medicines called statins to control their cholesterol. This is in addition to eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

Statins can help you stay healthy. They can also help prevent a heart attack or stroke. You may need to take a statin if you are in one of these groups:

  • Adults who have had a heart attack or stroke. Or adults who have had peripheral vascular disease, a ministroke (transient ischemic attack), or stable or unstable angina. This group also includes people who have had a procedure to restore blood flow through a blocked artery. These procedures include percutaneous coronary intervention, angioplasty, stent, and open-heart bypass surgery.

  • Adults who have diabetes. Or adults who are at higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke and have an LDL cholesterol level of 70 to 189 mg/dL

  • Adults who are 21 years old or older and have an LDL cholesterol level of 190 mg/dL or higher.

If you are in a high-risk group, talk with your healthcare provider about your treatment goals. Make sure you understand why these goals are important, based on your own health history and your family history of heart disease or high cholesterol.

Make a plan to have regular cholesterol checks. You may need to fast before getting this test. Also ask your provider about any side effects your medicines may cause. Let your provider know about any side effects you have. You may need to take more than one medicine to reach the cholesterol goals that you and your provider decide on.