Why is high cholesterol a health problem?
Cholesterol is a fat that is produced by the liver but also comes from our diet. We all need some cholesterol for normal body functions, such as making cell membranes, producing and transporting hormones, and building protective nerve sheaths. Eating a lot of fatty foods in your diet can increase your blood cholesterol levels above healthy levels. Since cholesterol is not water-soluble, it circulates in the blood attached to proteins called lipoproteins. Excess cholesterol is deposited in the arteries causing them to become blocked and hardened, which narrows the arteries and restricts blood flow. This condition, called atherosclerosis, increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, angina, and stroke.
How do cholesterol-lowering medications work?
Cholesterol-lowering medications are used to reduce high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They are classed according to how they work and include:
- Statins that block the production of cholesterol by the liver but have no effect on dietary cholesterol, such as atorvastatin, simvastatin, and rosuvastatin
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors that block the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines, such as ezetimibe
- Fibrates that regulate the amount of lipoprotein produced to carry cholesterol in the blood, such as fenofibrate