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Pros and Cons of Popular Cholesterol Drugs

  • High cholesterol drugs prescribed for patients with levels between 130 to 190 mg/dL depending on health history
  • Lipitor reduces LDL cholesterol but may cause liver damage in 2% of patients
  • Zetia can also reduce triglyceride levels by reducing absorption of cholesterol by the body
  • Vytorin combines two types of cholesterol lowering medication but can cause serious side effects

High cholesterol can be dangerous to your health. To prevent that damage, your physician may recommend cholesterol drugs that will help lower your levels. According to the American Heart Association, cholesterol medicines should be used when patients have levels above 190 mg/dL if they have no history of heart disease or above 130 mg/dL in patients who do have heart disease or who are at high for developing heart problems. However, before you begin taking high cholesterol medication, you should know more about some of the most prescribed choices.


The most commonly prescribed cholesterol drug is Lipitor which belongs to a class of medications known as statins. This class of medicine works by preventing your body from manufacturing as much cholesterol as it normally would. Because the drugs restrict your body’s production of cholesterol, more of the cholesterol consumed in your diet can be used for your physical needs. That means less will be left over in your bloodstream. When combined with lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise and a lower cholesterol diet, Lipitor has been very effective in bringing down LDL cholesterol numbers.

On the downside, Lipitor has little to no effect on HDL levels, even though these are also important to heart health. Lipitor and other statins must be taken for life. Because the medications are responsible for controlling your cholesterol levels, if you stop using it then you’ll see a rise in those levels. Also, there are a number of possible side effects. Headaches are the most common side effect of taking Lipitor. In about 2% of patients who take this cholesterol supplement, liver damage can also occur. Patients may need to have regular screenings to ensure their liver is staying healthy.


Although statins like Lipitor are the most commonly prescribed, there are alternative types. Cholesterol absorption inhibitors, such as Zetia, are another example. These drugs work by preventing your body from absorbing cholesterol. As a result, you won’t have as much cholesterol in your bloodstream. Evidence has shown that Zetia can lower both LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Like statins, these drugs can lead to liver damage and must be taken for the rest of your life unless major lifestyle changes are made. Less serious but more common side effects of Zetia include cold-like symptoms and muscle pains.


Another option frequently prescribed is a drug like Vytorin which combines both statin and cholesterol absorption inhibitor medications. The benefit of these drugs is that help both LDL and triglyceride levels. They also work on reducing the cholesterol your body makes and the cholesterol you consume through your diet. The evidence suggests that combining the drugs does offer better results than taking only one or the other. However, Vytorin may not necessarily reduce your risk of developing atherosclerosis any better than just taking Lipitor or any other statin.

Vytorin is not a good choice for everyone, however. Patients who have a history of liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, or other chronic health problems may not be able to take this drug because it can increase your risks of developing serious side effects. Drinking more than one quart of grapefruit juice per day can increase the risk of these effects.

The information supplied in this article is not to be considered as medical advice and is for educational purposes only.