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High Cholesterol


Once you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, your physician may suggest diet and lifestyle modifications to help you lower it. When these measures are not enough, your physician will prescribe drugs that will help control your cholesterol levels. There are several groups of medications for this purpose; however, prescriptions from the statins group are among the most widely prescribed. Just as with any prescription drug, medications in the statin category may cause some unpleasant side effects. The side effects vary, although they mainly affect the digestive system.


Cholesterol is produced in the body, but it’s also consumed through dietary means. Cholesterol helps to build new cells, but having too much cholesterol can cause heart disease because of the cholesterol building up in your blood vessels. Once cholesterol enters your blood stream, it attaches to protein and creates lipoprotein. There are three forms of lipoproteins: high-density, low-density and very low-density. The two your physician will be most concerned about are the high-density and low-density lipoproteins. High-density lipoprotein is considered the good cholesterol and should be a high number. Low-density lipoprotein is the "bad" cholesterol and should have a low reading. High levels of LDL or low levels of HDL can cause high cholesterol.


Statins are prescribed to block the enzyme that makes cholesterol in the body. This results in your body creating less cholesterol, which causes the liver to send out receptors to attract LDL in your blood, reducing your LDL level. Statins are prescribed under several brand names, including Lescol, Lipitor, Zocor and Mevacor.


Statins may cause side effects such as sleep problems, blurry eyesight, muscle or joint pain, rash, headache and fatigue. However, the majority of statin side effects affect the digestive system; they include: diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, constipation and stomach pain.


The reason statins cause digestive discomfort is not known fully. However, experts at the MayoClinic state that taking these medications with food seem to reduce these uncomfortable side effects. Statin medications are given in pill form, which can trigger heartburn in some people. Swallowing pills with no water or swallowing large pills may irritate the lining of the esophagus, triggering heartburn. Statins also contain calcium, which according to University of Maryland Medical Center has shown to be helpful in lowering cholesterol levels slightly. Calcium is also known to cause nausea and constipation. The Second-Opinion website states that statins may cause intestinal inflammation. Intestinal inflammation can disrupt normal digestion, causing diarrhea or constipation.


Texas Heart states that many of these side effects are rare and most people take these drugs with little to no side effects. If you develop any of the listed side effects notify your physician right away. However, you should not stop taking your medications unless your physician tells you to. Your physician may lower your dosage, even so, you may still develop side effects. If this is the case, your doctor will consider putting you on cholesterol lowering medications outside of the statin category.


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