Treating high cholesterol 

If you've been diagnosed with high cholesterol, you'll be advised to make changes to your diet and increase your level of exercise.

After a few months, if your cholesterol level hasn't dropped, you may be advised to take cholesterol-lowering medication.

Changing your diet, stopping smoking and exercising more will also help to prevent high cholesterol developing.

The various treatments for high cholesterol are outlined below. You can also read a summary of the pros and cons of the treatments for high cholesterol, allowing you to compare your treatment options.


Eating a healthy, balanced diet that's low in saturated fats can reduce your level of LDL (bad cholesterol).

Try to avoid or cut down on the following foods, which are high in saturated fat:

  • fatty cuts of meat and meat products, such as sausages and pies
  • butter, ghee and lard
  • cream, soured cream, crème fraîche and ice cream
  • cheese, particularly hard cheese
  • cakes and biscuits
  • milk chocolate
  • coconut oil, coconut cream and palm oil

The government recommends that a maximum of 11% of a person's food energy should come from saturated fat. This equates to no more than:

  • 30g of saturated fat a day for the average man
  • 20g of saturated fat a day for the average woman

Children should have less.

Check the labels on the foods you're eating to find out how much saturated fat you're consuming.

Read more about the saturated fat guidelines.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Many experts believe that the fats found in avocados and oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon and tuna, are good for you.

These are known as omega-3 fatty acids and high doses can improve (lower) triglyceride levels in some people. However, too much omega-3 fatty acids can contribute to obesity.

For people with a high triglyceride level, at least two portions of oily fish a week is thought to be beneficial. However, there's no evidence that taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements has the same benefit.

Cholesterol-lowering medication

There are several different types of cholesterol-lowering medication that work in different ways. Your GP can advise you about the most suitable type of treatment, and may also prescribe medication to lower high blood pressure (hypertension) if it affects you.

The most commonly prescribed medications are outlined below.


Statins block the enzyme (a type of chemical) in your liver that helps to make cholesterol. This leads to a reduction in your blood cholesterol level.

You'll usually be started on a medication called atorvastatin. Other statins include simvastatin and rosuvastatin.

When someone has side effects from using a statin, it's described as having an "intolerance" to it. Side effects of statins include headaches, muscle pain and stomach problems, such as indigestiondiarrhoea or constipation.

Statins will only be prescribed to people who continue to be at high risk of heart disease, because they need to be taken for life. Cholesterol levels start to rise again once you stop taking them.


In some cases, a low daily dose of aspirin may be prescribed, depending on your age (usually over 40 years old) and other risk factors.

Low-dose aspirin can help to prevent blood clots forming, particularly for someone who's had a heart attack, has established vascular disease, or a high risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).

You may also be advised to have periodic blood tests to ensure your liver is functioning well.


Ezetimibe is a medication that blocks the absorption of cholesterol from food and bile juices in your intestines into your blood. It's generally not as effective as statins, but is less likely to cause side effects.

You can take ezetimibe at the same time as your usual statin if your cholesterol levels aren't low enough with the statin alone. The side effects of this combination are generally the same as those of the statin on its own (muscle pain and stomach problems).

You can take ezetimibe by itself if you're unable to take a statin. This may be because you have another medical condition, you take medication that interferes with how the statin works, or because you experience side effects from statins. Ezetimibe taken on its own rarely causes side effects.

For more information, you can read the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines about the use of ezetimibe for treating high cholesterol (PDF, 189kb).

Page last reviewed: 27/08/2015

Next review due: 27/08/2017