Zetia for High Cholesterol: Is It a Statin?

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Decreasing cholesterol levels with medication helps to lessen one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Reducing blood cholesterol by 10% decreases the risk of heart disease by 30%.

Were you diagnosed with high cholesterol? Has your doctor recommended medication as a treatment?

Zetia and statins are two types of medications that treat high cholesterol. Read further to learn more about the ways each lower cholesterol.

What Does High Cholesterol Mean For You?

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that your body needs in small amounts. But high levels can lead to heart disease. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol while HDL is the “good” type.

Blood tests check your levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipoproteins (HDL and LDL). 71 million adults in the U.S. have high LDL levels, but only one in three have it controlled. Heart disease is the main cause of death in the U.S.

There are other risks of heart disease also. These include diabetes, obesity in the belly, and high blood pressure. Controlling these conditions as well as your cholesterol is the first step toward better heart health.

How will lowering your cholesterol help you? It will:

  • Reduce risk of heart attack
  • Decrease chance of dying from heart disease
  • Decrease the need for heart bypass surgery or angioplasty (removing a blockage)

Lowering your cholesterol is one way to take control of your health and well-being. When lifestyle changes such as eating a healthier diet and consistent exercise don’t work, medication may be necessary.

There are several different classes of cholesterol-lowering medications. They all work to lower your cholesterol but in different ways. Statins are usually the first-line treatment for high cholesterol. Your doctor will decide which drug is right for you.

Zetia and Statin Drugs. Are They the Same?

Zetia is not a statin. It is in a new class of cholesterol-lowering drugs that prevent cholesterol absorption in the intestine. It is most effective at lowering LDL cholesterol and may lower triglycerides as well as raise HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).

It is the first drug (2002) in this class approved to treat high cholesterol and some inherited lipid disorders. Statin drugs have a longer history and first became available in the U.S. in 1987.

How does Zetia work? It reduces blood cholesterol by preventing absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine. This, in turn, decreases the amount of cholesterol delivered to the liver. It reduces the amount of cholesterol that the liver stores increasing the removal of cholesterol from the blood.

Statins have a different mode of action. They work by blocking the enzyme, HMG CoA reductase, a fancy name for what makes the liver produce cholesterol.

Does Zetia Work Better Than Statins?

Since Zetia is a new medication, there haven’t been a large number of studies to test its effectiveness. All the studies performed are for people who have high cholesterol due to a genetic defect rather than diet or lifestyle.

In a study called IMPROVE-IT, scientists found Zetia to be effective at decreasing LDL levels, and they also found that it works better when used with a statin lowering LDL levels by 24%. It can also have a small effect on having another heart attack when used together with statins.

Are You a Candidate For Zetia?

As with any medication, there are guidelines for prescribing Zetia. Doctors recommend prescribing it only after changes to diet and lifestyle haven’t worked.

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There are certain reasons that some people shouldn’t take Zetia. It doesn’t have many restrictions but people with active liver disease or who are pregnant or breastfeeding shouldn’t take it.

Your doctor will take into consideration your risk of cardiac disease along with your lipid profile numbers. The following levels may show that you need a cholesterol-lowering drug:

  • Cholesterol greater than 240 mg/dL
  • LDL greater than 160 mg/dL
  • HDL is less than 40 mg/dL

The risk factors that your doctor will take into account include:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • High blood pressure
  • Age 55 or older for men and 65 for women
  • A family history of high cholesterol or heart disease

Of course, making changes in your lifestyle will help get your numbers down faster. A diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol is helpful. Adopting a consistent exercise routine is beneficial, too.

Side Effects

Zetia doesn’t have many side effects, but you should report the following to your doctor:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Any type of allergic reaction
  • Nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea
  • Inflammation of pancreas and gallbladder
  • Rarely, muscle problems leading to muscle breakdown and kidney damage

Most people don’t have problems taking this medication. If you have side effects, they may go away after taking it for a period of time. Tell your doctor about any problems that you’re worried about or that don’t go away.

The Decision to Take Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs

The decision to begin taking any medication is one that requires exploration and discussion with your doctor. A trusting patient-doctor relationship is crucial to your treatment.

It’s important to know your risk of heart disease and your lipid profile numbers. Your doctor will watch these levels during your treatment as well as your liver function.

Compliance in following the treatment plan that your doctor develops is critical. He will base further treatment on your lipid levels as well as your reported changes in lifestyle. If you’re not honest, it can affect your health and well-being.

The Bottom Line on High Cholesterol

Taking Zetia when your cholesterol is high is beneficial, especially when taken with a statin drug. The goal is to reduce your LDL levels and increase your HDL to decrease the risk of heart disease and death.

Since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., high cholesterol and LDL levels need aggressive treatment. Having high levels is asymptomatic so you won’t feel different or have any signs.

Compliance means following the suggestions of your doctor. These can include taking your medications as prescribed and making lifestyle changes like stopping smoking, eating healthy, losing weight, and getting exercise. These changes will reduce your risk factors for heart disease.

Medications may not work unless they’re taken as prescribed. You may have worse side effects. And if taken with foods or supplements not recommended can affect how your medication works.

Check out our website for more information on Zetia and other cholesterol-lowering medications.

About Cary Byrd

eDrugSearch founder, Cary Byrd, has been called an “e-health innovator” by MarketIntellNow, interviewed by top pharmaceutical industry journalists, invited to Matthew Holt’s Health 2.0 Conference and a Consumer Report's health summit, and highlighted on numerous health blogs.


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