Treatment - High cholesterol

If you've high cholesterol, you'll be advised to make changes to your diet. You'll also be told to increase your level of exercise.

Your GP will recommend medication if your cholesterol has not dropped after a few months.

Changing your diet, stopping smoking and exercising more will help prevent high cholesterol.

There are various treatments for high cholesterol.

Healthy diet

Eating a healthy, balanced diet that's low in saturated fats can reduce your level of "bad cholesterol" (LDL).

Read more about why diet and nutrition helps your health

Cholesterol-lowering medication

There are several different types of cholesterol-lowering medication that work in different ways. Your GP can tell you about the most suitable type of treatment. They may also prescribe medication to lower high blood pressure if it affects you.

The most prescribed medications are statins, aspirin and ezetimibe.

Statins

Statins block the enzyme in your liver that helps to make cholesterol. This leads to a reduction in your blood cholesterol level.

Once diagnosed with high cholesterol, you will be prescribed a statin such as atorvastatin, simvastatin, pravastatin or rosuvastatin. There are other alternatives available.

When someone has side effects from using a statin, it's described as having an "intolerance" to it.

Side effects of statins include:

  • headaches
  • stomach problems, such as indigestion, diarrhoea or constipation
  • muscle pain

You should speak to your GP immediately if you have unexplained muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness when taking a statin.

Statins will only be prescribed to people who continue to be at high risk of heart disease. This is  because they need to be taken for life. Cholesterol levels start to rise again once you stop taking them.

Aspirin

In some cases, a low daily dose of aspirin may be prescribed. This will depend on your age and other risk factors. Low-dose aspirin can help to prevent blood clots forming.

You may also be advised to have regular blood tests to ensure your liver is functioning well.

Ezetimibe

Ezetimibe medication blocks how cholesterol from food is absorbed into your blood. It's generally not as effective as statins, but is less likely to cause side effects.

You can take ezetimibe at the same time as your usual statin if your cholesterol levels are not low enough with the statin alone. The side effects of this combination are the same as the statin on its own - muscle pain, headaches and stomach problems.

You can take ezetimibe by itself if you're unable to take a statin. This may be because you have another medical condition. It may also be because you take medication that interferes with how the statin works. Ezetimibe taken on its own rarely causes side effects.


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 24 March 2021
Next review due: 24 March 2024

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