Cholesterol medications: When diet and exercise aren't enough

If diet and lifestyle changes aren't enough to lower your blood cholesterol to healthy levels, your doctor may recommend a cholesterol-lowering drug. Knowing the pros and cons of the different types of medications used to lower cholesterol can lead to more informed decisions about your options.

Statins

These drugs, such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor), work by suppressing the activity of an enzyme that controls cholesterol production.

  • Benefits. Statins lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol by 20 to 55 percent — more than any other drug. They also raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol. LDL clogs the arteries, while HDL prevents cholesterol buildup in the arteries.
  • Possible side effects. In rare instances, muscle pain and changes in liver enzyme levels may occur. People using statins have reported joint pain as well. Don't take statins if you're pregnant or have liver disease.

Ezetimibe (Zetia)

This drug lowers the amount of cholesterol absorbed by the body.

  • Benefits. Ezetimibe lowers bad cholesterol by 18 to 25 percent. It can be taken in combination with statins to lower LDL levels even further. It can also raise good cholesterol.
  • Possible side effects. Ezetimibe may cause diarrhea, joint pain and tiredness.
Apr. 01, 2014 See more In-depth