How to Make the Most of Your Cholesterol Medications

Getting a prescription is only the first step. Stay on top of your heart health with these expert tips

Woman with medication

If you know, or suspect, your cholesterol is high, it's time to act. High levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) play a major role in the dangerous buildup of plaque in your arteries.

The good news, however, is that dangerous plaque buildup can be reduced with the right medications. Receiving a prescription from your doctor is only the first step. To keep your LDL levels down and protect your heart, you'll need to take your medications properly and regularly. Here's how to make your medicine work for you.

Become an expert about your medications

When your doctor prescribes or reviews the medications you're taking, it's important to learn as much as you can about these drugs. Bring a pad of paper and a pen to your next appointment with these six questions written down:

  1. Is there a generic version I might be able to use to save money?
  2. How exactly should I take the medicine? This should include the dose, the time to take it, and whether it's better to take it with or without food.
  3. If I forget to take a dose, what should I do?
  4. Are there any side effects I should watch out for?
  5. Will this medicine interact with any of the other drugs or supplements I'm taking? Or worse, are they dangerous to take together?
  6. How will I know if the medicine is working?

Follow your doctor's orders 
Take your medication exactly the way your doctor advises. Skipping, taking a different dose of, or stopping a prescription altogether can affect your cholesterol levels and raise your risk for a heart attack. Be sure to call your doctor if you think you are experiencing any side effects. Schedule follow up visits with your doctor as needed.

Create a medication routine
The easier it is to take your medications, the more likely you'll use them properly. One simple tip: Make an easy-to-read chart with the names of your medications and the times of day to take them. And, if possible, take them at the same time of day you do other daily activities, such as making your morning coffee, brushing your teeth, or feeding a pet. You can also set an alarm on your clock, phone, or computer.

Be sure to keep your medications together in one place, out of reach of children. To avoid having to deal with multiple pill bottles throughout the day, consider buying a pillbox that organizes your medications for each day of the week and each time of day you need to take them. Call your pharmacy to see if you can have your prescription automatically refilled (or mailed to you) to save time and money.

Take steps to create a healthy lifestyle

Cholesterol medications don't take the place of regular exercise, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, consuming alcohol in moderation, and following a healthy diet. In fact, a healthy lifestyle may be one of the best medicines of all, as the factors mentioned have been proven to reduce blood pressure and high blood sugar, and further slash your risk for a heart attack.

The Nurses' Health study found that women who follow all of the healthy lifestyle recommendations have an 83 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease; another study that followed men 45-79 years old for 11 years found that healthy lifestyle adherence accounts for an 86 percent lower risk of having a heart attack.