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Should I Take Lipitor for My High Cholesterol?

You've just come from the doctor. He or she?told you the bad news: You have high cholesterol. It might make you feel better to learn you are not alone. The American Heart Association reports 106 million adults in the United States share your same diagnosis.

And while it's certainly?possible to live a long life with high cholesterol, there are risks in leaving it untreated. The World Health Organization says 56% of all cases of heart disease worldwide are caused by high cholesterol. It's also a contributing factor in more than four million deaths per year.

The initial treatment for high cholesterol is diet and exercise. That does the trick for some people. Others, though, need more help. Your doctor might decide you need medication -- like Lipitor.

The class of drugs to lower cholesterol are called "statins." There are various formulas, all of which promise to lower your total blood cholesterol. One of those is atorvastatin, which you probably know better by its brand name, Lipitor. It is perhaps the most popular of all of the statins.

Lipitor and the others all work the same way -- they lower your LDL, or bad cholesterol, and raise your HDL, or good cholesterol. One of the positives of taking such a drug is that you will see results quickly. According to the Lipitor Web site:

Lipitor may start working within 2 weeks. At your next doctor's visit, your blood tests may show lower cholesterol numbers. When you begin to see these results, you'll feel more motivated. Motivation is key to making lifestyle changes. This should include exercising and eating healthier. All these changes put you on the path to better heart health.

It seems to be a no-brainer if you have high cholesterol: Take Lipitor or one of the other statins. They will almost certainly lower your cholesterol, and reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and other serious problems.

But there are some possible side effects. The two major ones are raised liver enzymes (which will show up in a blood test), and muscle pain or weakness. Report this to your doctor immediately.

So why wouldn't someone with high cholesterol take medication? For one thing, you may be making a lifetime commitment. The Mayo Clinic writes on its Web site:

You may think that once your cholesterol goes down, you can stop taking medication. But, if your cholesterol levels have decreased as a result of taking a statin, you'll likely need to stay on it indefinitely. If you stop taking it, your cholesterol levels will probably go back up.

The exception may be if you make significant changes to your diet or lose a lot of weight. Substantial lifestyle changes may allow you to maintain low cholesterol without continuing to take the medication, but do so under your doctor's supervision.

Even still, the American Heart Association says Lipitor and other medications can save the lives of people with high cholesterol:

The Heart Protection Study has shown that virtually all categories of individuals with high coronary risk benefit from statin therapy. Given how important aspirin can be for reducing the risk for heart disease, it is striking that the lead investigator of this study was confident enough to proclaim the statins as "the new aspirin." It is clear that the statins are potentially life-saving drugs and that, like aspirin, they should be considered seriously by patients at risk for coronary disease.


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