Talk to your pharmacist!
Cholesterol and its Role in the Body
Cholesterol is a type of fat, which we need in our diet to help us build cells in our body and make hormones, which act as chemical messengers.
The body also uses cholesterol to make Vitamin D, needed to help us absorb calcium from the food we eat.
There are two main sources of cholesterol:
- The food we eat
- Our liver
If you have too much cholesterol in your blood stream, you are at risk for getting heart disease and stroke. In some people, it may be difficult to lower cholesterol levels through diet and lifestyle changes alone. In such cases, medications may be required to reduce cholesterol.
Your doctor will help you decide what medication will work best for you. Once you have chosen a medication, you usually need to continue taking it for the rest of your life.
There are several different groups of cholesterol medications available.
1) Bile Acid Resins
This family of medications includes cholestyramine resin (Questran®), and colestipol (Colestid®). Questran® is available as a powder, and Colestid® as tablets or a powder. The powder is dissolved in water or juice and is usually taken four times daily.
These medications work by stopping cholesterol from leaving your stomach and going into your blood.
The most common side effects of these medications are stomach upset, a feeling of fullness, constipation, and nausea. These side effects may disappear in time, after your body adjusts to these medications.
Niacin is one of the B vitamins. It can lower cholesterol when taken in appropriate doses. Niacin works by decreasing the amount of cholesterol made by the liver.
Flushing (face turning red), headaches, or itchy skin are the most common side effects. Ask your pharmacist how to manage some of these side effects.
3) The Statins
This group of medications includes fluvastatin (Lescol®), lovastatin (Mevacor®), pravastatin (Pravachol®), simvastatin (Zocor®) and atorvastatin (Lipitor®).
Normally, these kinds of medications are taken once or twice daily. The most common, once daily dose, should always be taken with your evening meal.
The statin medications work by lowering the amount of cholesterol made by the liver.
Very few people experience side effects from these medications. However, some patients may suffer from headaches or stomach upset. Your doctor will also do blood tests and remind you of yearly eye exams when you are taking these medications.
4) Fibric Acid Derivatives
This family of medications includes gemfibrozil (Lopid®) and fenofibrate (Lipidil®). These medications are usually taken once or twice daily.
Fibric Acid Derivatives help the body get rid of extra cholesterol.
These medications normally have few side effects, but may cause stomach upset in some patients.
Combination Drug Therapy
Your doctor may prescribe one or a combination of two medications to reduce your cholesterol to a required level. If you are prescribed combination therapy, your pharmacist will help you decide when to take the two different medications. This will ensure they work better together.
It is important that you talk to your pharmacist to learn more about your medication. Your pharmacist will also tell you if it’s safe to take other medications.
Even if you think that your cholesterol has been lowered enough, you should never stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor or pharmacist. Stopping a cholesterol medication can cause your cholesterol levels to climb up again which may be hazardous to your health!