High cholesterol is just one of many conditions you may face as you grow older. Keeping your cholesterol levels within a safe range might require medication. Knowing the possible effects of high cholesterol treatments can help you understand what to expect from your cholesterol-lowering drug. With numerous separate classes of cholesterol-lowering medications, each type performs special functions to help reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in your bloodstream. Your doctor will consider your overall health and any underlying conditions when determining which drug to prescribe.
Statins are effective in treating high cholesterol and they reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. They work by inhibiting production of an enzyme that enables your body to manufacture cholesterol. Statins may cause unpleasant side effects in some individuals, however. You may develop muscle pain and experience liver damage. In fact, your doctor will likely monitor your liver function closely while you take this medication. Other side effects include nausea, constipation, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction, numbness in the hands and feet and occasional drowsiness.
Fibrates break down particles that help form triglycerides, a type of fat in your bloodstream and one component of cholesterol. This type of drug can help raise your HDL or “good” cholesterol; it also lowers your risk of heart attack and helps to reduce LDL cholesterol, the unhealthy type of cholesterol. Fibrates, like statins, can cause mild to severe cramping in your legs, most commonly in the backs of your calves. This risk increases when taking fibrates and statins together. Notify your doctor if you experience this type of pain when taking your medication. Also, watch for sensitivity to sunlight and for any signs of gastrointestinal discomfort, skin rashes or gallstones.
Niacin helps treat your high cholesterol by lowering triglycerides and lipoproteins while raising your HDL levels. But niacin treatment, or vitamin B3, may make you wish you could shrug off your skin like a scratchy, wool coat. Your whole body may feel itchy within a matter of a few minutes to a few hours after a dose of this medication. This treatment for high cholesterol causes some people to flush along the neck and face, and it may also cause an increase in blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. These side effects may be temporary and may lessen as your body adjusts to the drug.
Bile-Acid Binding Resins
Bile-acid binding resins treat your high cholesterol by causing your liver to take cholesterol out of your bloodstream to form bile, which then is excreted from your system. As a woman, you may already be concerned about developing osteoporosis down the road. A bile-acid binding resin may increase your risk of this disease because these medications can contribute to the loss of calcium in the body. Discuss any family history of osteoporosis with your doctor before taking this type of drug. You may also develop vitamin deficiencies (particularly vitamins A, D, E and K), constipation, liver damage, heartburn and gas when taking this type of drug.
Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors
Cholesterol absorption inhibitors decrease the amount of cholesterol in your body by limiting the amount your small intestine absorbs. This medication may cause gastrointestinal distress. Your doctor may prescribe it along with statin drugs to help treat your high cholesterol.
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