If you’ve been diagnosed with high LDL or “bad” cholesterol, know that you are not alone. It is estimated that 71 million Americans have high LDL or “bad” cholesterol, putting them at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Despite this, less than half of these adults with high “bad” cholesterol have been treated and even less actually have their cholesterol under control.
“It’s important for each patient to work with their doctor to discuss the most effective treatment plan for their high cholesterol,” says Dr. Vivian Fonseca, professor of medicine and pharmacology at Tulane University Health Sciences Center. “In some cases, dietary changes and increased exercise is all that is needed for cholesterol control. For others, medication also is needed.”
Defining “high” cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance, and some cholesterol is needed for your body to function normally. However, having too much “bad” cholesterol and not enough “good” cholesterol can cause plaque to build up on the walls of your arteries, putting you at elevated risk for heart disease and stroke.
Since high “bad” cholesterol doesn’t cause many symptoms, a great deal of people may not realize their levels are too high, underscoring the importance of getting cholesterol levels checked. Doctors recommend adults have their cholesterol levels screened every five years (sooner if you already have been diagnosed with high cholesterol). A blood test can determine your cholesterol levels.
Controlling your weight, staying physically active and making healthful food choices can help lower “bad” cholesterol. For many people, however, heredity plays a role and even with lifestyle changes, their “bad” cholesterol may continue to be too high. In those cases, a doctor may prescribe medication to help reduce the “bad” cholesterol.
Treating “bad” cholesterol
When more than diet and exercise is needed to treat high cholesterol, most people are treated with a class of medications called “statins.” If the use of a statin by itself is not getting cholesterol under control, another type of medicine called Welchol® (colesevelam hydrochloride) may be added to further lower “bad” cholesterol levels.
Welchol is a bile acid sequestrant that lowers “bad” cholesterol differently from statins. While statins work in the liver, Welchol works in the intestines. Bile acids are needed to help digest fat from foods that are eaten. Welchol attaches to these bile acids and bile and removes some of them from the body. When levels of bile acids are reduced, the liver needs to make more and takes cholesterol from the bloodstream to do so, thereby lowering “bad” cholesterol. Tell your healthcare provider if you have stomach or intestinal problems, including gastroparesis (when the stomach takes too long to empty its contents), abnormal contractions of the digestive system, a history of major gastrointestinal tract surgery, if you have trouble swallowing, or if you have vitamin A, D, E, or K deficiencies. The most common side effects seen in patients taking Welchol include constipation, indigestion and nausea.
If you’re not sure about your cholesterol levels, see your doctor to schedule a blood test. Since high cholesterol typically has no symptoms, if you wait to see a doctor until you feel sick, it could be too late to prevent serious health problems. For more information on high cholesterol, visit www.heart.org. To learn more about Welchol, visit www.welchol.com or speak to your doctor.