Cholesterol-reducing drugs

Cholesterol-reducing drugs are medicines that lower the amount of cholesterol(a fatlike substance) in the blood.

Cholesterol is a chemical that can do both good and harm in the body. On thegood side, cholesterol plays important roles in the structure of cells and inthe production of hormones. But too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to heart and blood vessel disease. To complicate matters, not all cholesterolcontributes to heart and blood vessel problems. One type, called high-densitylipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or "good cholesterol," actually lowers the risk of these problems. The other type, low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or "bad cholesterol," is the type that threatens people's health. The names reflect the way cholesterol moves through the body. To travel through thebloodstream, cholesterol must attach itself to a protein. The combination ofa protein and a fatty substance like cholesterol is called a lipoprotein.

Many factors may contribute to the fact that some people have higher cholesterol levels than others. A diet high in certain types of fats is one factor. Medical problems such as poorly controlled diabetes, an underactive thyroid gland, an overactive pituitary gland, liver disease or kidney failure also maycause high cholesterol levels. And some people have inherited disorders thatprevent their bodies from properly using and eliminating fats. This allows cholesterol to build up in the blood.

Treatment for high cholesterol levels usually begins with changes in habits.By losing weight, stopping smoking, exercising more and reducing the amount of fat and cholesterol in the diet, many people can bring their cholesterol levels down to acceptable levels. However, some may need to use cholesterol-reducing drugs to reduce their risk of health problems.

Different types of cholesterol-reducing drugs work in different ways. Not allcholesterol comes from the diet --some is made in the body. So the strategyof some drugs is to prevent the body from making cholesterol. Other cholesterol-reducing drugs interfere with the body's ability to absorb cholesterol from food. A third approach involves drugs that combine with cholesterol and remove it from the bloodstream. Cholesterol-reducing drugs will not cure problems that cause high cholesterol; they will only help control cholesterol levels.

Examples of cholesterol-reducing drugs are cholestyramine (Questran), colestipol (Colestid), gemfibrozil (Lopid), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol) and simvastatin (Zocor). Lovastatin, pravastatin and simvastatin belongto a group of medicines called HMG-CoA (3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzymeA) reductase inhibitors. These drugs prevent the body from making cholesterolby blocking a key enzyme in the process.

People who have certain medical conditions or who are taking certain other medicines may have problems if they take cholesterol-reducing drugs. Before using these drugs, people with any medical conditions, for example, a person with allergies, or a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding, should make sure their physicians are aware of their conditions as well as any other medicine they may be taking.

Some of the minor side effects of cholesterol-reducing drugs are heartburn, indigestion, belching, bloating, gas, nausea or vomiting, stomach pain, dizziness and and headache. They usually go away as the body adjusts to the drug and do not require medical treatment unless they continue or they interfere with normal activities. Additional side effects are possible, and should be reported to the patient's physician.

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