Cholesterol Medication: There Are Side Effects

cholesterol medication side effects

Cholesterol medications can help to lower the "bad" cholesterol that increases heart disease risk, but these prescriptions often come with unintended side effects.

Along with decreasing "bad" cholesterol (or LDL) and increasing "good" cholesterol (HDL), the Mayo Clinic said cholesterol medications may decrease the triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood that increases risks of heart disease.

2. Bile acid binding resins

3. Cholesterol absorption inhibitor

4. Combination of cholesterol absorption inhibitor and statin

5. Fibrates

6. Niacins

7. Combination of statins and niacins

8. Omega-3 fatty acids

Each type of medication works to control levels of HDL, LDL, and triglycerides in different ways.

And each brings with it possible side effects and cautions when taking the drugs, Mayo said.

Statins have received the most attention for reported side effects, including constipation, nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, cramps, muscle soreness, pain, and weakness, Mayo said, and it also may interact with grapefruit juice.

The Food and Drug Administration warned that taking them may increase the risk of Type II diabetes, while two studies reported on by Medical News Today found that statins may increase the possibility of developing cateracts.

In a 2013 story, NPR focused on a research study that found that about 17 percent of people who took statins to lower cholesterol had side effects — a figure that made up more than the 5 to 10 percent reported in randomized trials. More importantly, two-thirds of the people who did have side effects quit taking the drugs.

Nonetheless, some doctors still believe in their importance.

"Statins are important drugs, especially for patients with known heart disease," Dr. Alexander Turchin, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who worked on the study, told NPR. "These are not drugs you just want to throw away without a second thought."

Turchin also told NPR it can help to switch to a different statin and find one in which the side effects are tolerable.

Still, statin

side effects shouldn’t be ignored, according to Dr. Barbara Roberts, who wrote "The Truth About Statins." She told NPR that studies aren’t showing that statins help women prevent heart disease.

"You can get just as much benefit from following the Mediterranean diet as you can from statins," she told NPR.

The Food & Drug Administration advises consumers taking statins to consider:

• Routine monitoring of liver enzymes in the blood, once considered standard procedure for statin users, is no longer needed. Such monitoring has not been found to be effective in predicting or preventing the rare occurrences of serious liver injury associated with statin use.

• Cognitive (brain-related) impairment, such as memory loss, forgetfulness, and confusion, has been reported by some statin users.

• People being treated with statins may have an increased risk of raised blood sugar levels and the development of Type II diabetes.

• Some medications interact with lovastatin (brand names include Mevacor) and can increase the risk of muscle damage.

Despite possible side effects, Medical News Today pointed to studies that find the benefits of using statins outweigh the risks.

Other cholesterol-lowering medications besides statins also have reported side effects, Mayo said. The bile acid binding resins, like Colestid and Questran, may cause constipation, bloating, nausea, gas, and, in some cases, may increase triglycerides. The cholesterol absorption inhibitor Zetia may cause stomach pain, fatigue, and muscle soreness, while combining it with a statin may add gas, abdominal pain, cramps, pain, and weakness to that list.

Fibrates may cause nausea, stomach pain, and gallstones, while niacin may cause facial and neck flushing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gout, high blood sugar, and peptic ulcers, Mayo said. Omega-3 fatty acids like Lovaza and Vascepa may cause increased belching, fishy taste, and risk of infection.

This article is for information only and is not intended as medical advice. Talk with your doctor about your specific health and medical needs.

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