Medications That Increase Cholesterol Levels

Some of the medications you are taking for other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure or hormonal therapies, may adversely affect your lipid levels. This could inadvertently increase your triglycerides and "bad" LDL cholesterol while lowering your "good" HDL cholesterol.

This may be bothersome if you have never had to worry about high cholesterol before. Additionally, if you are currently on medications to lower your cholesterol, you might notice that your therapy may need to be adjusted.

Although this is not an inclusive list, the drugs listed below are the more commonly used medications that could potentially affect your lipid levels. You should always disclose to your healthcare provider the medications that you are taking, so he or she can rule out whether or not any medications or natural products are adversely affecting your health:

Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers are medications that are normally prescribed to treat high blood pressure. Despite the significant advantages, they offer in treating several forms of heart disease, beta-blockers also have been noted to decrease HDL levels and elevate triglyceride levels. Among the beta-blocker that cause this effect are:

  • Tenormin (atenolol)
  • Zebeta (bisoprolol)
  • Toprol (metoprolol)
  • Corgard (Nadolol)
  • Inderal (propanolol)

Despite these concerns, the benefits of beta blockers usually more than outweigh the risk. Most lipid elevations tend to be relatively small. Any significant increase can be addressed either by lowering the dose or finding a substitute beta blocker.

Beyond their role in lowering blood pressure, beta-blockers are instrumental in prolonging the survival of people with congestive heart failure or a previous heart attack. Even if a slight alteration of your lipids is observed, it is important that beta-blockers are not discontinued.

Prednisone

Prednisone is a glucocorticoid used to reduce the swelling, warmth, and tenderness associated with many inflammatory conditions. Despite the relief they may give to you, they can raise triglycerides, LDL cholesterol levels, and HDL cholesterol levels.

Predisone's effect on cholesterol levels can be surprisingly fast and profound. Studies have long demonstrated that hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) and systolic hypertension can develop after just two weeks on prednisone.

Amiodarone

Amiodarone is a drug used to treat a variety of heart arrhythmias and is associated with a wide range of side effects. One of the smaller side effects is related to high cholesterol. Amiodarone mainly raises LDL cholesterol levels but does not appear to have an effect on HDL cholesterol or triglyceride levels.

Cyclosporine

Cyclosporine is a drug used to suppress the immune system. It is commonly used after an organ transplant in order to prevent rejection. However, it may also be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Studies have shown that cyclosporine raises LDL cholesterol levels.

Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids include testosterone, the male sex hormone that is used to treat delayed puberty in boys and some forms of impotence. It is also used illegally to build muscle mass. These drugs are known to significantly raise LDL levels and lower HDL levels.

Interestingly, the adverse effect anabolic steroids have on cholesterol are more common with oral forms of the drug rather than injectables. Beyond hypercholesterolemia, steroid abuse can lead to type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.

Protease Inhibitors

Protease inhibitors are used to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Although the mechanism by which these drugs raise cholesterol levels is not known, they appear to especially raise triglyceride levels and lower HDL cholesterol levels. Fibrates and statins are sometimes used to lower triglycerides and increase HDL levels in individuals taking these medications.

Diuretics

Diuretics are used to treat high blood pressure and water retention. There are two types of diuretics that cause increased cholesterol levels:

  • Thiazide diuretics (including hydrochlorothiazide, chlorothiazide, metolazone)
  • Loop diuretics (including furosemide, torsemide, bumetanide)

Thiazide diuretics cause a temporary increase in total cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and LDL cholesterol levels. HDL cholesterol levels are not typically affected. Currently, indapamide is the only thiazide diuretic that has not been shown to adversely affect lipid levels. 

Loop diuretics share the same pattern as thiazide diuretics; however, some of these drugs have shown a slight decrease in HDL cholesterol.

Since diuretics are often essential to lowering blood pressure, doctors will usually recommend changes in diet, routine exercise, and other lifestyle interventions rather than stopping the medications.

A Word From Verywell

If you have high cholesterol levels and are taking a medication that could potentially raise your lipid levels further, your healthcare provider may want to monitor your blood periodically to make sure that your lipid levels are not too high. In some cases, the adverse effect on lipids may be only temporary. However, if they persist to be high after treatment starts, your healthcare provider may decide to add or modify your cholesterol-lowering therapy.

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