How can high cholesterol lead to heart attack, heart disease and strokes?
- Cholesterol can build up on the walls of your veins and arteries and form hard plaques.
- This "hardening of the arteries" damages their lining, which sets the stage for heart disease. It also makes the vessels more prone to blood clots.
- Blood clots can break off and block the arteries, leading to strokes, heart attacks, or circulation problems.
Lowering high cholesterol can help protect you from these serious health problems. Lowering cholesterol may not just stop new plaques from forming on the lining – aggressively treating cholesterol may even help get rid of existing plaque buildup.
Treating high cholesterol
Although exercise and a healthy diet are often the first line of defence, sometimes they aren't enough to manage or reverse the problem. Many people also need medications to get their cholesterol to a healthier level. Here's how some common cholesterol medications work:
Statins: This group of cholesterol medications, which includes atorvastatin (Lipitor® and generics) , fluvastatin (Lescol® and generics), lovastatin (Mevacor® and generics), pravastatin (Pravachol®and generics), rosuvastatin (Crestor® and generics), and simvastatin (Zocor® and generics), works by blocking the production of cholesterol in the liver. These are the most commonly prescribed medications in Canada for lowering cholesterol. The majority of Canadians can meet the recommended target levels of cholesterol by taking one type of statin medication.
Cholesterol absorption inhibitors: This type of cholesterol medication, which includes ezetimibe (Ezetrol®), works by stopping cholesterol from being absorbed into the body through the intestine.
Resins: This family of cholesterol medication, which includes cholestyramine, colesevelam (Lodalis®), and colestipol (Colestid®), works by breaking down cholesterol and blocking cholesterol from being absorbed into the body.
Fibrates: This group, which includes bezafibrate (Bezalip® SR), gemfibrozil (Lopid® and generics), and fenofibrate (Lipidil® and generics), works by breaking down cholesterol and blocking cholesterol production.
Are all medications the same?
The short answer is "No." Some medications are more effective at lowering certain types of cholesterol. For example, the fibrates lower triglycerides levels more than others, which is important for people with diabetes, but are not as effective at decreasing the "bad" cholesterol (LDL-C). Some statin medications decrease cholesterol levels more effectively than others. Different medications also have different side effects.
Although cholesterol-lowering medications make it easier for people to keep their cholesterol levels under control, sticking to a treatment plan still takes effort. When you stick to your cholesterol medication, you keep your cholesterol down, and lower your risk of developing heart disease. Talk to your doctor about your cholesterol treatment targets. For more information on cholesterol targets, see "Reaching your targets."
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