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Finding Your Way

Treating High Cholesterol

An up-to-date guide explains the condition and the different medicines to treat it

Most people start with a medicine called a statin, which works to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol. If your bad cholesterol remains high, your doctor or nurse may increase your statin dose or add a different kind of medicine to help you reach healthy levels.

Our guide, “Treating High Cholesterol,” based on a review of more than 100 research studies of cholesterol medicines, shows that all such medicines can cause minor side effects. These side effects include heartburn, upset stomach and diarrhea. These problems often go away and are not usually serious. But you should tell your doctor if any symptoms do not disappear.

It’s important to talk with your doctor or nurse about your high cholesterol. Good topics include:

  • Diet and exercise. Everyone with high cholesterol should be on a cholesterol-lowering diet. Exercise helps, too. Ask if diet and exercise alone can help meet your cholesterol goals.
  • Medicines. Talk to your doctor about how and when to take cholesterol medicines. Once you start taking medicine to lower cholesterol levels, you will probably need to continue.
  • Cost. Some medicines are available as generics, which cost less than brand-name drugs. Check with your health insurance plan about the cost. Our guide offers resources if you need help paying for your medicines or have other questions.
  • Other steps for a healthy heart. Lowering high cholesterol is vital. But it’s also important to control other health problems, like diabetes and high blood pressure. Stopping smoking will also help.


AHRQ’s guides can help make complex decisions—including how to treat high cholesterol—easier to understand. By understanding the benefits and risks of treatments, you can work with your doctor to make decisions that are right for you.

I’m Dr. Carolyn Clancy, and that’s my advice on how to navigate the health care system.

Carolyn M. Clancy, a general internist and researcher, is an expert in engaging consumers in their health care. She is the director of the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

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