There are four different types of cholesterol medication. These include statins, niacin, bile-acid resins, and fibric acid derivatives. Each one works in a different way to treat high cholesterol. In many cases, patients are prescribed more than one drug, or more than one type of drug, to achieve desired results.
Statins block cholesterol production in the liver. These medications are the first line of defense for treating high cholesterol. They lower low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, and mildly raise high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or “good” cholesterol. They are also effective in lowering triglyceride levels. Side effects of statins include intestinal problems, liver damage, and in rare cases, muscle weakness.
Niacin is a B vitamin complex found in food and in higher levels by prescription. It effectively lowers LDL cholesterol and raises HDL cholesterol. Niacin obtained from supplements or food sources should not be used to treat high cholesterol. Only a qualified medical professional can prescribe the adequate amount of niacin on an individual basis. Over-the-counter formulas are also available, but should only be used under a doctor’s supervision. Side effects of niacin include itching, tingling, flushing and headache.
Bile-acid resins are prescription medications that decrease LDL and total cholesterol levels. They bind with bile in the intestines, where they prevent it from being absorbed into the circulatory system. Bile is made primarily of cholesterol, and bile-acid resins work by limiting the body’s overall supply.
Side effects of these medications include upset stomach, constipation and gas. They may also interfere with the body’s absorption of some vitamins and other medications. Informing a physician of all over-the-counter and prescription medications and supplements is necessary before taking bile-acid resins.
Fibric acid derivatives, also known as fibrates, are used to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while increasing HDL cholesterol. Science is unclear on how this cholesterol medication works. It is believed that fibrates increase the breakdown of triglyceride particles, decrease the production of lipoproteins, and simultaneously induce the creation of new HDL particles in the body.
Side effects of fibric acid derivatives include upset stomach, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, and blurred vision. Fibrates may interact with other cholesterol medication such as statins, causing muscle breakdown and possible kidney damage. Other interactions may occur in patients taking blood thinners such as warfarin, causing excessive bleeding.