Although you can control many factors that cause hypercholesterolemia, a lipid disorder marked by elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, unmanageable risks include your age, sex and genetics. If lifestyle changes alone don't return unhealthy cholesterol to normal levels, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help. Older people, men and those with a family history of high cholesterol face greater likelihood of developing clogged arteries.
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When your doctor tests your cholesterol levels, your results will likely include four numbers: total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, high-density lipoprotein and triglycerides, a type of blood fat that acts similarly to LDL cholesterol. If your numbers prove unhealthy, your doctor may prescribe dietary change, exercise and, possibly, medication. Cholesterol readings that may cause concern include those higher than 200 mg per dl – deciliter – of blood for total cholesterol, higher than 130 mg/dL for LDL cholesterol, lower than 40 mg/dL for HDL cholesterol and higher than 150 mg/dL for triglycerides.
If your numbers fall slightly outside of normal range, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes that can help avoid taking cholesterol medication but still reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and other serious conditions. If your numbers are high or if altering your diet, losing weight and becoming more active don't help, your doctor might prescribe medication. Drugs used to treat unhealthy cholesterol include stains, fibrates, ezetimibe and bile acid sequestering resins. Your doctor may tell you that will need to take these medicines for the rest of your life.
Benefits and Drawbacks
If cholesterol-lowering medications work for you, your doctor may balk at taking you off of them. Statins, if taken for five to seven years, can reduce your risk of coronary artery disease by 30 percent, according to the United States Preventive Service Task Force. You may want to get off of cholesterol medicine because of side effects that include muscle and joint aches, nausea, diarrhea and constipation as well more serious liver and muscle damage.
Don't suddenly stop taking cholesterol medication. Your numbers may quickly return to unhealthy levels. If you want to stop taking statins and other cholesterol-lowering medicine, you should do so gradually and under the supervision of your doctor. If you want to wean yourself from cholesterol medicine, you should demonstrate the ability to improve your cholesterol with lifestyle changes. Changes could include sharply reducing your intake of most fats, sugar and alcohol. You might also need to lose weight and become more active.
- PubMed Health; High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides; May 2010
- Genetic Home Reference; Hypercholesterolemia; March 2007
- MedlinePlus; Familial Hypercholesterolemia; May 2010
- MayoClinic.com; Statins: Are These Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Right for You?; February 2010
- MayoClinic.com; Cholesterol Levels: What Numbers Should You Aim For?; June 2010