cholesterol is treated with lifestyle changes and medicines. The main goal of treatment is to lower your (bad cholesterol) low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level enough to reduce your risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack, and other related health problems.
Your risk for heart disease and heart attack goes up as your LDL cholesterol level rises and your number of heart disease risk factors increases.
Some people are at high risk for heart attacks because they already have heart disease. Other people are at high risk for heart disease because they have diabetes or more than one heart disease risk factor.
- Cigarette smoking
- High blood pressure (140/90 mmHg or higher), or you’re on medicine to treat high blood pressure
- Low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dL)
- Family history of early heart disease (heart disease in father or brother before age 55; heart disease in mother or sister before age 65)
- Age (men 45 years or older; women 55 years or older)
- Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC). TLC is a three-part program that includes a healthy diet, weight management, and physical activity. TLC is for anyone whose LDL cholesterol level is above goal.
- Medicines. If cholesterol-lowering medicines are needed, they’re used with the TLC program to help lower your LDL cholesterol level.
The TLC DietWith the TLC diet, less than 7 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fat. This kind of fat is found in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods.
No more than 25 to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from all fats, including saturated, trans, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.
You also should have less than 200 mg a day of cholesterol. The amounts of cholesterol and the types of fat in prepared foods can be found on the foods' Nutrition Facts labels.
Foods high in soluble fiber also are part of the TLC diet. They help prevent the digestive tract from absorbing cholesterol. These foods include:
- Whole-grain cereals such as oatmeal and oat bran
- Fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, and prunes
- Legumes such as kidney beans, lentils, chick peas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans
A healthy diet also includes some types of fish, such as salmon, tuna (canned or fresh), and mackerel. These fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids may help protect the heart from blood clots and inflammation and reduce the risk of heart attack. Try to have about two fish meals every week.
You also should try to limit the amount of sodium (salt) that you eat. This means choosing low-salt and "no added salt" foods and seasonings at the table or while cooking. The Nutrition Facts label on food packaging shows the amount of sodium in the item.
Try to limit drinks with alcohol. Too much alcohol will raise your blood pressure and triglyceride level. (Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.) Alcohol also adds extra calories, which will cause weight gain.
Men should have no more than two drinks containing alcohol a day. Women should have no more than one drink containing alcohol a day. One drink is a glass of wine, beer, or a small amount of hard liquor.
For more information about TLC, go to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI’s) "Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC."
Weight Managementoverweight or obese, losing weight can help lower LDL cholesterol. Maintaining a healthy weight is especially important if you have a condition called metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that raise your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke.
The five metabolic risk factors are a large waistline (abdominal obesity), a high triglyceride level, a low HDL cholesterol level, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed if you have at least three of these metabolic risk factors.
Physical ActivityRoutine physical activity can lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raise your HDL cholesterol level.
People gain health benefits from as little as 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. The more active you are, the more you will benefit.
Cholesterol-Lowering MedicinesMedicines can help control high blood cholesterol, but they don’t cure it. Thus, you must continue taking your medicine to keep your cholesterol level in the recommended range.
The five major types of cholesterol-lowering medicines are statins, bile acid sequestrants (seh-KWES-trants), nicotinic (nick-o-TIN-ick) acid, fibrates, and ezetimibe.
- Statins work well at lowering LDL cholesterol. These medicines are safe for most people. Rare side effects include muscle and liver problems.
- Bile acid sequestrants also help lower LDL cholesterol. These medicines usually aren’t prescribed as the only medicine to lower cholesterol. Sometimes they’re prescribed with statins.
- Nicotinic acid lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raises HDL cholesterol. You should only use this type of medicine with a doctor’s supervision.
- Fibrates lower triglycerides, and they may raise HDL cholesterol. When used with statins, fibrates may increase the risk of muscle problems.
- Ezetimibe lowers LDL cholesterol. This medicine works by blocking the intestine from absorbing cholesterol.
If needed, your doctor may prescribe medicines for other health problems. Take all medicines exactly as your doctor prescribes. The combination of medicines may lower your risk for heart disease and heart attack.
While trying to manage your cholesterol, take steps to manage other heart disease risk factors too. For example, if you have high blood pressure, work with your doctor to lower it.
If you smoke, quit. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke. If you’re overweight or obese, try to lose weight. Your doctor can help you create a reasonable weight-loss plan.