Basic and Clinical Pharmacology, 13th Ed.

Agents Used in Dyslipidemia

Mary J. Malloy, MD, & John P. Kane, MD, PhD


A 42-year-old man with moderately severe coronary artery disease has a body mass index (BMI) of 29, increased abdominal girth, and hypertension that is well controlled. In addition to medicine for hypertension, he is taking 40 mg atorvastatin. Current lipid panel (mg/dL): cholesterol 184, triglycerides 200, LDL-C 110, HDL-C 34, non–HDL-C 150. Lipoprotein(a) (Lp[a]) is twice normal. Fasting glucose is 102 mg/dL, HbA1C is 6%, and fasting insulin is 38 μU/mL. Liver enzymes are normal. Creatine kinase level is mildly elevated. The patient is referred for help with management of his dyslipidemia. You advise dietary measures, exercise, and weight loss. Which additional drugs would help him achieve his lipoprotein treatment goals: LDL-C 50–60 mg/dL; triglycerides < 120 mg/dL; HDL-C > 45 mg/dL; and reduced level of Lp(a)? Would this patient also benefit from a drug to manage insulin resistance? If so, which drug?

Plasma lipids are transported in complexes called lipoproteins. Metabolic disorders that involve elevations in any lipoprotein species are termed hyperlipoproteinemias or hyperlipidemias. Hyperlipemiadenotes increased levels of triglycerides.

The two major clinical sequelae of hyperlipidemias are acute pancreatitis and atherosclerosis. The former occurs in patients with marked hyperlipemia. Control of triglycerides can prevent recurrent attacks of this life-threatening disease.

Atherosclerosis is the leading cause of death for both genders in the USA and other Western countries. Lipoproteins that contain apolipoprotein (apo) B-100 convey lipids into the artery wall. These are low-density (LDL), intermediate-density (IDL), very-low-density (VLDL), and lipoprotein(a) (Lp[a]). Remnant lipoproteins formed during the catabolism of chylomicrons that contain the B-48 protein (apo B-48) can also enter the artery wall, contributing to atherosclerosis.

Cellular components in atherosclerotic plaques include foam cells, which are transformed macrophages, and smooth muscle cells filled with cholesteryl esters. These cellular alterations result from endocytosis of modified lipoproteins via at least four species of scavenger receptors. Chemical modification of lipoproteins by free radicals creates ligands for these receptors. The atheroma grows with the accumulation of foam cells, collagen, fibrin, and frequently calcium. Whereas such lesions can slowly occlude coronary vessels, clinical symptoms are more frequently precipitated by rupture of unstable atheromatous plaques, leading to activation of platelets and formation of occlusive thrombi.

Although treatment of hyperlipidemia can cause slow physical regression of plaques, the well-documented reduction in acute coronary events that follows vigorous lipid-lowering treatment is attributable chiefly to mitigation of the inflammatory activity of macrophages and is evident within 2–3 months after starting therapy.

High-density lipoproteins (HDL) exert several antiatherogenic effects. They participate in retrieval of cholesterol from the artery wall and inhibit the oxidation of atherogenic lipoproteins. Low levels of HDL (hypoalphalipoproteinemia) are an independent risk factor for atherosclerotic disease and thus are a potential target for intervention.

Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for coronary disease. It is associated with reduced levels of HDL, impairment of cholesterol retrieval, cytotoxic effects on the endothelium, increased oxidation of lipoproteins, and stimulation of thrombogenesis. Diabetes, also a major risk factor, is another source of oxidative stress.

Normal coronary arteries can dilate in response to ischemia, increasing delivery of oxygen to the myocardium. This process is mediated by nitric oxide, acting on smooth muscle cells of the arterial media. This function is impaired by atherogenic lipoproteins, thus aggravating ischemia. Reducing levels of atherogenic lipoproteins and inhibiting their oxidation restores endothelial function.

Because atherogenesis is multifactorial, therapy should be directed toward all modifiable risk factors. Atherogenesis is a dynamic process. Quantitative angiographic trials have demonstrated net regression of plaques during aggressive lipid-lowering therapy. Primary and secondary prevention trials have shown significant reduction in mortality from new coronary events and in all-cause mortality.




Lipoproteins have hydrophobic core regions containing cholesteryl esters and triglycerides surrounded by unesterified cholesterol, phospholipids, and apoproteins. Certain lipoproteins contain very high-molecular-weight B proteins that exist in two forms: B-48, formed in the intestine and found in chylomicrons and their remnants; and B-100, synthesized in liver and found in VLDL, VLDL remnants (IDL), LDL (formed from VLDL), and Lp(a) lipoproteins.HDL consist of at least 20 discrete molecular species containing apolipoprotein A-I (apo A-I). About 100 other proteins are known to be distributed variously among the HDL species.

Synthesis & Catabolism

A. Chylomicrons

Chylomicrons are formed in the intestine and carry triglycerides of dietary origin, unesterified cholesterol, and cholesteryl esters. They transit the thoracic duct to the bloodstream.



Triglycerides are removed in extrahepatic tissues through a pathway shared with VLDL that involves hydrolysis by the lipoprotein lipase (LPL) system. Decrease in particle diameter occurs as triglycerides are depleted. Surface lipids and small apoproteins are transferred to HDL. The resultant chylomicron remnants are taken up by receptor-mediated endocytosis into hepatocytes.

B. Very-Low-Density Lipoproteins

VLDL are secreted by liver and export triglycerides to peripheral tissues (Figure 35–1). VLDL triglycerides are hydrolyzed by LPL, yielding free fatty acids for storage in adipose tissue and for oxidation in tissues such as cardiac and skeletal muscle. Depletion of triglycerides produces remnants (IDL), some of which undergo endocytosis directly into hepatocytes. The remainder is converted to LDL by further removal of triglycerides mediated by hepatic lipase. This process explains the “beta shift” phenomenon, the increase of LDL (beta-lipoprotein) in serum as hypertriglyceridemia subsides. Increased levels of LDL can also result from increased secretion of VLDL and from decreased LDL catabolism.


FIGURE 35–1 Metabolism of lipoproteins of hepatic origin. The heavy arrows show the primary pathways. Nascent VLDL are secreted via the Golgi apparatus. They acquire additional apo C lipoproteins and apo E from HDL. Very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) are converted to VLDL remnants (IDL) by lipolysis via lipoprotein lipase in the vessels of peripheral tissues. In the process, C apolipoproteins and a portion of the apo E are given back to high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Some of the VLDL remnants are converted to LDL by further loss of triglycerides and loss of apo E. A major pathway for LDL degradation involves the endocytosis of LDL by LDL receptors in the liver and the peripheral tissues, for which apo B-100 is the ligand. Dark color denotes cholesteryl esters; light color denotes triglycerides; the asterisk denotes a functional ligand for LDL receptors; triangles indicate apo E; circles and squares represent C apolipoproteins. FFA, free fatty acid; RER, rough endoplasmic reticulum. (Adapted, with permission, from Kane J, Malloy M: Disorders of lipoproteins. In: Rosenberg RN et al [editors]: The Molecular and Genetic Basis of Neurological Disease. 2nd ed. Butterworth-Heinemann, 1997.)

C. Low-Density Lipoproteins

LDL are catabolized chiefly in hepatocytes and other cells by receptor-mediated endocytosis. Cholesteryl esters from LDL are hydrolyzed, yielding free cholesterol for the synthesis of cell membranes. Cells also obtain cholesterol by synthesis via a pathway involving the formation of mevalonic acid by HMG-CoA reductase. Production of this enzyme and of LDL receptors is transcriptionally regulated by the content of cholesterol in the cell. Normally, about 70% of LDL is removed from plasma by hepatocytes. Even more cholesterol is delivered to the liver via IDL and chylomicrons. Unlike other cells, hepatocytes can eliminate cholesterol by secretion in bile and by conversion to bile acids.

D. Lp(a) Lipoprotein

Lp(a) lipoprotein is formed from LDL and the (a) protein, linked by a disulfide bridge. The (a) protein is highly homologous with plasminogen but is not activated by tissue plasminogen activator. It occurs in a number of isoforms of different molecular weights. Levels of Lp(a) vary from nil to over 2000 nM/L and are determined chiefly by genetic factors. Lp(a) can be found in atherosclerotic plaques and may also contribute to coronary disease by inhibiting thrombolysis. Levels are elevated in certain inflammatory states. The risk of coronary disease is strongly related to the level of Lp(a). A common variant (I4399M) in the coding region is associated with elevated levels.

E. High-Density Lipoproteins

The apoproteins of HDL are secreted by the liver and intestine. Much of the lipid comes from the surface monolayers of chylomicrons and VLDL during lipolysis. HDL also acquires cholesterol from peripheral tissues, protecting the cholesterol homeostasis of cells. Free cholesterol is transported from the cell membrane chiefly by a transporter, ABCA1, acquired by a small particle termed prebeta-1 HDL, and then esterified by lecithin:cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT), leading to the formation of larger HDL species. Cholesterol is also exported from macrophages by the ABCG1 transporter and the docking scavenger receptor, SR-BI, to large HDL particles. The cholesteryl esters are transferred to VLDL, IDL, LDL, and chylomicron remnants with the aid of cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP). Much of the cholesteryl ester thus transferred is ultimately delivered to the liver by endocytosis of the acceptor lipoproteins. HDL can also deliver cholesteryl esters directly to the liver via SR-BI that does not cause endocytosis of the lipoproteins. At the population level, HDL-C levels relate inversely to atherosclerosis risk. Among individuals, the capacity to accept exported cholesterol can vary widely at identical levels of HDL-C. The ability of peripheral tissues to export cholesterol via the transporter mechanism and the acceptor capacity of HDL are emerging as major determinants of coronary atherosclerosis.


Lipoprotein disorders are detected by measuring lipids in serum after a 10-hour fast. Risk of heart disease increases with concentrations of the atherogenic lipoproteins, is inversely related to levels of HDL, and is modified by other risk factors (Table 35–1). Evidence from clinical trials suggests that LDL cholesterol levels of 60 mg/dL may be optimal for patients with coronary disease. Ideally, triglycerides should be below 120 mg/dL. Although LDL-C is still the primary target of treatment, reducing the levels of VLDL and IDL is also important. Calculation of non-HDL cholesterol provides a means of assessing levels of all the lipoproteins in the VLDL to LDL cascade. Differentiation of the disorders requires identification of the lipoproteins involved (Table 35–2). Diagnosis of a primary disorder usually requires further clinical and genetic data as well as ruling out secondary hyperlipidemias (Table 35–3).

TABLE 35–1 Current blood lipid guidelines.1


Phenotypes of abnormal lipoprotein distribution are described in this section. Drugs mentioned for use in these conditions are described in the following section on basic and clinical pharmacology.


Hypertriglyceridemia is associated with increased risk of coronary disease. VLDL and IDL have been found in atherosclerotic plaques. These patients tend to have cholesterol-rich VLDL of small-particle diameter and small, dense LDL. Hypertriglyceridemic patients with coronary disease or risk equivalents should be treated aggressively. Patients with triglycerides above 700 mg/dL should be treated to prevent acute pancreatitis because the LPL clearance mechanism is saturated at about this level.

Hypertriglyceridemia is an important component of the metabolic syndrome, which also includes low levels of HDL-C, insulin resistance, hypertension, and abdominal obesity. Hyperuricemia is frequently present. Insulin resistance appears to be central to this disorder. Management of these patients frequently requires, in addition to a fibrate, the use of metformin, another agent, or both (see Chapter 41). The severity of hypertriglyceridemia of any cause is increased in the presence of the metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes.

Primary Chylomicronemia

Chylomicrons are not present in the serum of normal individuals who have fasted 10 hours. The recessive traits of deficiency of LPL or its cofactor, apo C-II, are usually associated with severe lipemia (2000–3000 mg/dL of triglycerides when the patient is consuming a typical American diet). These disorders might not be diagnosed until an attack of acute pancreatitis occurs. Patients may have eruptive xanthomas, hepatosplenomegaly, hypersplenism, and lipid-laden foam cells in bone marrow, liver, and spleen. The lipemia is aggravated by estrogens because they stimulate VLDL production, and pregnancy may cause marked increases in triglycerides despite strict dietary control. Although these patients have a predominant chylomicronemia, they may also have moderately elevated VLDL, presenting with a pattern called mixed lipemia (fasting chylomicronemia and elevated VLDL). LPL deficiency is diagnosed by assay of lipolytic activity after intravenous injection of heparin. A presumptive diagnosis is made by demonstrating a pronounced decrease in triglycerides a few days after reduction of daily fat intake below 15 g. Marked restriction of total dietary fat is the basis of effective long-term treatment. Niacin, a fibrate, or marine omega-3 fatty acids may be of some benefit if VLDL levels are increased. Genetic variants at other loci that participate in intravascular lipolysis, including LMF1, apo A-V, GPI-HDL BP1, and apo C-III, can have profound effects on triglyceride levels.

Familial Hypertriglyceridemia

A. Severe (Usually Mixed Lipemia)

Mixed lipemia usually results from impaired removal of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins. Factors that increase VLDL production aggravate the lipemia because VLDL and chylomicrons are competing substrates for LPL. The primary mixed lipemias probably reflect a variety of genetic determinants. Most patients have centripetal obesity with insulin resistance. Other factors that increase secretion of VLDL also worsen the lipemia. Eruptive xanthomas, lipemia retinalis, epigastric pain, and pancreatitis are variably present depending on the severity of the lipemia. Treatment is primarily dietary, with restriction of total fat, avoidance of alcohol and exogenous estrogens, weight reduction, exercise, and supplementation with marine omega-3 fatty acids. Most patients also require treatment with a fibrate. If insulin resistance is not present, niacin may be useful.

B. Moderate

Increased levels of VLDL can also reflect a genetic predisposition and are worsened by factors that increase the rate of VLDL secretion from liver, ie, obesity, alcohol, diabetes, and estrogens. Treatment includes addressing these issues and the use of fibrates or niacin as needed. Marine omega-3 fatty acids are a valuable adjuvant.

Familial Combined Hyperlipoproteinemia (FCH)

In this common disorder associated with an increased incidence of coronary disease, individuals may have elevated levels of VLDL, LDL, or both, and the pattern may change with time. Familial combined hyperlipoproteinemia involves an approximate doubling in VLDL secretion and appears to be transmitted as a dominant trait. Triglycerides can be increased by the factors noted above. Elevations of cholesterol and triglycerides are generally moderate, and xanthomas are absent. Diet alone does not normalize lipid levels. A reductase inhibitor alone, or in combination with niacin or fenofibrate, is usually required to treat these patients. When fenofibrate is combined with a reductase inhibitor, either pravastatin or rosuvastatin is recommended because neither is metabolized via CYP3A4. Marine omega-3 fatty acids may be useful.

Familial Dysbetalipoproteinemia

In this disorder, remnants of chylomicrons and VLDL accumulate and levels of LDL are decreased. Because remnants are rich in cholesteryl esters, the level of total cholesterol may be as high as that of triglycerides. Diagnosis is confirmed by the absence of the ε3 and ε4 alleles of apo E, the ε2/ε2 genotype. Other apo E isoforms that lack receptor ligand properties can also be associated with this disorder. Patients often develop tuberous or tuberoeruptive xanthomas, or characteristic planar xanthomas of the palmar creases. They tend to be obese, and some have impaired glucose tolerance. These factors, as well as hypothyroidism, can aggravate the lipemia. Coronary and peripheral atherosclerosis occurs with increased frequency. Weight loss, together with decreased fat, cholesterol, and alcohol consumption, may be sufficient, but a fibrate or niacin is usually needed to control the condition. These agents can be given together in more resistant cases. Reductase inhibitors are also effective because they increase hepatic LDL receptors that participate in remnant removal.


Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH)

Familial hypercholesterolemia is an autosomal dominant trait. Although levels of LDL tend to increase throughout childhood, the diagnosis can often be made on the basis of elevated umbilical cord blood cholesterol. In most heterozygotes, cholesterol levels range from 260 to 500 mg/dL. Triglycerides are usually normal. Tendon xanthomas are often present. Arcus corneae and xanthelasma may appear in the third decade. Coronary disease tends to occur prematurely. In homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia, which can lead to coronary disease in childhood, levels of cholesterol often exceed 1000 mg/dL and early tuberous and tendinous xanthomas occur. These patients may also develop elevated plaque-like xanthomas of the aortic valve, digital webs, buttocks, and extremities.

Defects of LDL receptors underlie familial hypercholesterolemia. Some individuals have combined heterozygosity for alleles producing nonfunctional and kinetically impaired receptors. In heterozygous patients, LDL can be normalized with reductase inhibitors or combined drug regimens (Figure 35–2). Homozygotes and those with combined heterozygosity whose receptors retain even minimal function may partially respond to niacin, ezetimibe, and reductase inhibitors. Emerging therapies for these patients include mipomersen, employing an antisense strategy targeted at apo B-100, and lomitapide, a small molecule inhibitor of microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (MTP). LDL apheresis is effective in medication-refractory patients.


FIGURE 35–2 Sites of action of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, niacin, ezetimibe, and resins used in treating hyperlipidemias. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptors are increased by treatment with resins and HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. VLDL, very-low-density lipoproteins; R, LDL receptor.

Familial Ligand-Defective Apolipoprotein B-100

Defects in the domain of apo B-100 that binds to the LDL receptor impair the endocytosis of LDL, leading to hypercholesterolemia of moderate severity. Tendon xanthomas may occur. Response to reductase inhibitors is variable. Up-regulation of LDL receptors in liver increases endocytosis of LDL precursors but does not increase uptake of ligand-defective LDL particles. Niacin often has beneficial effects by reducing VLDL production.

Familial Combined Hyperlipoproteinemia (FCH)

As described, some persons with familial combined hyperlipoproteinemia have only an elevation in LDL. Serum cholesterol is often less than 350 mg/dL. Dietary and drug treatment, usually with a reductase inhibitor, is indicated. It may be necessary to add niacin or ezetimibe to normalize LDL.

Lp(a) Hyperlipoproteinemia

This familial disorder, which is associated with increased atherogenesis and arterial thrombus formation, is determined chiefly by alleles that dictate increased production of the (a) protein moiety. Lp(a) can be secondarily elevated in patients with severe nephrosis and certain other inflammatory states. Niacin reduces levels of Lp(a) in many patients. Reduction of levels of LDL-C below 100 mg/dL decreases the risk attributable to Lp(a), as does the administration of low dose aspirin.

Cholesteryl Ester Storage Disease

Individuals lacking activity of lysosomal acid lipase (LAL), accumulate cholesteryl esters in liver and certain other cell types leading to hepatomegaly with subsequent fibrosis, elevated levels of LDL-C, low levels of HDL-C, and often modest hypertriglyceridemia. Rarely, a totally ablative form, Wolman disease, occurs in infancy. A recombinant replacement enzyme therapy, Sebelipase alfa, is in clinical trials.

Other Disorders

Deficiency of cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase can increase LDL in the heterozygous state. Homozygotes can also have elevated triglycerides, resistance to reductase inhibitors, and increased risk of gallstones and coronary disease. Autosomal recessive hypercholesterolemia (ARH) is due to mutations in a protein that normally assists in endocytosis of LDL. The receptor chaperone, PCSK9, normally conducts the receptor to the lysosome for degradation. Gain of function mutations in PCSK9 are associated with elevated levels of LDL-C. The ABCG5 and ABCG8 half-transporters act together in enterocytes and hepatocytes to export phytosterols into the intestinal lumen and bile, respectively. Homozygous or combined heterozygous ablative mutations in either transporter result in elevated levels of LDL enriched in phytosterols, tendon and tuberous xanthomas, and accelerated atherosclerosis. Niacin, ezetimibe, bile acid-binding resins, and reductase inhibitors may be useful, variably, in these disorders.

HDL Deficiency

Rare genetic disorders, including Tangier disease and LCAT (lecithin:cholesterol acyltransferase) deficiency, are associated with extremely low levels of HDL. Familial hypoalphalipoproteinemia is a more common disorder with levels of HDL cholesterol usually below 35 mg/dL in men and 45 mg/dL in women. These patients tend to have premature atherosclerosis, and the low HDL may be the only identified risk factor. Management should include special attention to avoidance or treatment of other risk factors. Niacin increases HDL in many of these patients. Reductase inhibitors and fibric acid derivatives exert lesser effects. Aggressive LDL reduction is indicated.

In the presence of hypertriglyceridemia, HDL cholesterol is low because of exchange of cholesteryl esters from HDL into triglyceride-rich lipoproteins. Treatment of the hypertriglyceridemia may increase or normalize the HDL level.


Before primary disorders can be diagnosed, secondary causes of the phenotype must be considered. The more common conditions are summarized in Table 35–3. The lipoprotein abnormality usually resolves if the underlying disorder can be treated successfully.

TABLE 35–3 Secondary causes of hyperlipoproteinemia.



Dietary measures are initiated first—unless the patient has evident coronary or peripheral vascular disease—and may obviate the need for drugs. Patients with familial hypercholesterolemia or familial combined hyperlipidemia always require drug therapy. Cholesterol and saturated and trans-fats are the principal factors that increase LDL, whereas total fat, alcohol, and excess calories increase triglycerides.

Sucrose and, especially, fructose increase VLDL. Alcohol can cause significant hypertriglyceridemia by increasing hepatic secretion of VLDL. Synthesis and secretion of VLDL are increased by excess calories. During weight loss, LDL and VLDL levels may be much lower than can be maintained during neutral caloric balance. The conclusion that diet suffices for management can be made only after weight has stabilized for at least 1 month.

General recommendations include limiting total calories from fat to 20–25% of daily intake, saturated fats to less than 7%, and cholesterol to less than 200 mg/d. Reductions in serum cholesterol range from 10% to 20% on this regimen. Use of complex carbohydrates and fiber is recommended, and cis-monounsaturated fats should predominate. Weight reduction, caloric restriction, and avoidance of alcohol are especially important for patients with elevated VLDL and IDL.

The effect of dietary fats on hypertriglyceridemia is dependent on the disposition of double bonds in the fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils, but not those from plant sources, activate peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-alpha (PPAR-α) and can induce profound reduction of triglycerides in some patients. They also have anti-inflammatory and antiarrhythmic activities. Omega-3 fatty acids are available over the counter as triglycerides from marine sources or as a prescription medication (Lovaza) containing ethyl esters of omega-3 fatty acids. The recommended dose of Lovaza is 4 g/d. It is necessary to determine the content of docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in over-the-counter preparations. Appropriate amounts should be taken to provide up to 3–4 g of these fatty acids daily. It is important to select preparations free of mercury and other contaminants. The omega-6 fatty acids present in vegetable oils may cause triglycerides to increase.

Patients with primary chylomicronemia and some with mixed lipemia must consume a diet severely restricted in total fat (10–20 g/d, of which 5 g should be vegetable oils rich in essential fatty acids), and fat-soluble vitamins should be given.

Homocysteine, which initiates proatherogenic changes in endothelium, can be reduced in many patients by restriction of total protein intake to the amount required for amino acid replacement. Supplementation with folic acid plus other B vitamins, and administration of betaine, a methyl donor, is indicated in severe homocysteinemia. Consumption of red meat should be minimized to reduce the production by the intestinal biome of tetramethyl amine oxide, a compound injurious to arteries.


The decision to use drug therapy for hyperlipidemia is based on the specific metabolic defect and its potential for causing atherosclerosis or pancreatitis. Suggested regimens for the principal lipoprotein disorders are presented in Table 35–2. Diet should be continued to achieve the full potential of the drug regimen. These drugs should be avoided in pregnant and lactating women and those likely to become pregnant. All drugs that alter plasma lipoprotein concentrations potentially require adjustment of doses of warfarin and indandione anticoagulants. Children with heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia may be treated with a resin or reductase inhibitor, usually after 7 or 8 years of age, when myelination of the central nervous system is essentially complete. The decision to treat a child should be based on the level of LDL, other risk factors, the family history, and the child’s age. Drugs are rarely indicated before age 16 in the absence of multiple risk factors or compound genetic dyslipidemias.

TABLE 35–2 The primary hyperlipoproteinemias and their treatment.



These compounds are structural analogs of HMG-CoA (3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A, Figure 35–3). Lovastatin, atorvastatin, fluvastatin, pravastatin, simvastatin, rosuvastatin, and pitavastatin belong to this class. They are most effective in reducing LDL. Other effects include decreased oxidative stress and vascular inflammation with increased stability of atherosclerotic lesions. It has become standard practice to initiate reductase inhibitor therapy immediately after acute coronary syndromes, regardless of lipid levels.


FIGURE 35–3 Inhibition of HMG-CoA reductase. Top: The HMG-CoA intermediate that is the immediate precursor of mevalonate, a critical compound in the synthesis of cholesterol. Bottom: The structure of lovastatin and its active form, showing the similarity to the normal HMG-CoA intermediate (shaded areas).

Chemistry & Pharmacokinetics

Lovastatin and simvastatin are inactive lactone prodrugs that are hydrolyzed in the gastrointestinal tract to the active β-hydroxyl derivatives, whereas pravastatin has an open, active lactone ring. Atorvastatin, fluvastatin, and rosuvastatin are fluorine-containing congeners that are active as given. Absorption of the ingested doses of the reductase inhibitors varies from 40% to 75% with the exception of fluvastatin, which is almost completely absorbed. All have high first-pass extraction by the liver. Most of the absorbed dose is excreted in the bile; 5–20% is excreted in the urine. Plasma half-lives of these drugs range from 1 to 3 hours except for atorvastatin (14 hours), pitavastatin (12 hours), and rosuvastatin (19 hours).

Mechanism of Action

HMG-CoA reductase mediates the first committed step in sterol biosynthesis. The active forms of the reductase inhibitors are structural analogs of the HMG-CoA intermediate (Figure 35–3) that is formed by HMG-CoA reductase in the synthesis of mevalonate. These analogs cause partial inhibition of the enzyme and thus may impair the synthesis of isoprenoids such as ubiquinone and dolichol and the prenylation of proteins. It is not known whether this has biologic significance. However, the reductase inhibitors clearly induce an increase in high-affinity LDL receptors. This effect increases both the fractional catabolic rate of LDL and the liver’s extraction of LDL precursors (VLDL remnants) from the blood, thus reducing LDL (Figure 35–2). Because of marked first-pass hepatic extraction, the major effect is on the liver. Preferential activity in liver of some congeners appears to be attributable to tissue-specific differences in uptake. Modest decreases in plasma triglycerides and small increases in HDL also occur.

Clinical trials involving many of the statins have demonstrated significant reduction of new coronary events and atherothrombotic stroke. Mechanisms other than reduction of lipoprotein levels appear to be involved. The availability of isoprenyl groups from the HMG-CoA pathway for prenylation of proteins is reduced by statins, resulting in reduced prenylation of Rho and Rab proteins. Prenylated Rho activates Rho kinase, which mediates a number of mechanisms in vascular biology. The observation that reduction in new coronary events occurs more rapidly than changes in morphology of arterial plaques suggests that these pleiotropic effects may be important. Likewise, decreased prenylation of Rab reduces the accumulation of Aβ protein in neurons, possibly mitigating the manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease. Statins appear to increase the efflux of cholesterol from macrophages, potentially mitigating its accumulation in the artery wall.

Therapeutic Uses & Dosage

Reductase inhibitors are useful alone or with resins, niacin, or ezetimibe in reducing levels of LDL. Women with hyperlipidemia who are pregnant, lactating, or likely to become pregnant should not be given these agents. Use in children is restricted to selected patients with familial hypercholesterolemia or familial combined hyperlipidemia.

Because cholesterol synthesis occurs predominantly at night, reductase inhibitors—except atorvastatin, rosuvastatin, and pitavastatin—should be given in the evening. Absorption generally (with the exception of pravastatin and pitavastatin) is enhanced by food. Daily doses of lovastatin vary from 10 to 80 mg. Pravastatin is nearly as potent on a mass basis as lovastatin with a maximum recommended daily dose of 80 mg. Simvastatin is twice as potent and is given in doses of 5–80 mg daily. Because of increased risk of myopathy with the 80 mg/d dose, the FDA issued labeling for scaled dosing of simvastatin and Vytorin in 2011. Pitavastatin is given in doses of 1–4 mg daily. Fluvastatin appears to be about half as potent as lovastatin on a mass basis and is given in doses of 10–80 mg daily. Atorvastatin is given in doses of 10–80 mg/d, and rosuvastatin, a very efficacious agent for severe hypercholesterolemia, at 5–40 mg/d. The dose-response curves of pravastatin and especially of fluvastatin tend to level off in the upper part of the dosage range in patients with moderate to severe hypercholesterolemia. Those of other statins are somewhat more linear.


Elevations of serum aminotransferase activity (up to three times normal) occur in some patients. This is often intermittent and usually not associated with other evidence of hepatic toxicity. Therapy may be continued in such patients in the absence of symptoms if aminotransferase levels are monitored and stable. In some patients, who may have underlying liver disease or a history of alcohol abuse, levels may exceed three times normal. This finding portends more severe hepatic toxicity. These patients may present with malaise, anorexia, and precipitous decreases in LDL. Medication should be discontinued immediately in these patients and in asymptomatic patients whose aminotransferase activity is persistently elevated to more than three times the upper limit of normal. These agents should be used with caution and in reduced dosage in patients with hepatic parenchymal disease, north Asians, and the elderly. Severe hepatic disease may preclude their use. In general, aminotransferase activity should be measured at baseline, at 1–2 months, and then every 6–12 months (if stable). Monitoring of liver enzymes should be more frequent if the patient is taking other drugs that have potential interactions with the statin. Excess intake of alcohol tends to aggravate hepatotoxic effects of statins. Fasting plasma glucose levels tend to increase 5–7 mg/dL with statin treatment. Long-term studies have shown a small but significant increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes in statin-treated patients, most of whom had findings of prediabetes before treatment.

Minor increases in creatine kinase (CK) activity in plasma are observed in some patients receiving reductase inhibitors, frequently associated with heavy physical activity. Rarely, patients may have marked elevations in CK activity, often accompanied by generalized discomfort or weakness in skeletal muscles. If the drug is not discontinued, myoglobinuria can occur, leading to renal injury. Myopathy may occur with monotherapy, but there is an increased incidence in patients also receiving certain other drugs. Genetic variation in an anion transporter (OATP1B1) is associated with severe myopathy and rhabdomyolysis induced by statins. Variants in the gene (SLCO1B1) coding for this protein can now be assessed (see Chapter 5).

The catabolism of lovastatin, simvastatin, and atorvastatin proceeds chiefly through CYP3A4, whereas that of fluvastatin and rosuvastatin, and to a lesser extent pitavastatin, is mediated by CYP2C9. Pravastatin is catabolized through other pathways, including sulfation. The 3A4-dependent reductase inhibitors tend to accumulate in plasma in the presence of drugs that inhibit or compete for the 3A4 cytochrome. These include the macrolide antibiotics, cyclosporine, ketoconazole and its congeners, some HIV protease inhibitors, tacrolimus, nefazodone, fibrates, paroxetine, venlafaxine, and others (see Chapters 4 and 66). Concomitant use of reductase inhibitors with amiodarone or verapamil also causes an increased risk of myopathy.

Conversely, drugs such as phenytoin, griseofulvin, barbiturates, rifampin, and thiazolidinediones increase expression of CYP3A4 and can reduce the plasma concentrations of the 3A4-dependent reductase inhibitors. Inhibitors of CYP2C9 such as ketoconazole and its congeners, metronidazole, sulfinpyrazone, amiodarone, and cimetidine may increase plasma levels of fluvastatin and rosuvastatin. Pravastatin and rosuvastatin appear to be the statins of choice for use with verapamil, the ketoconazole group of antifungal agents, macrolides, and cyclosporine. Doses should be kept low and the patient monitored frequently. Plasma levels of lovastatin, simvastatin, and atorvastatin may be elevated in patients ingesting more than 1 liter of grapefruit juice daily. All statins undergo glycosylation, thus creating an interaction with gemfibrozil.

Creatine kinase activity should be measured in patients receiving potentially interacting drug combinations. In all patients, CK should be measured at baseline. If muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness appears, CK should be measured immediately and the drug discontinued if activity is elevated significantly over baseline. The myopathy usually reverses promptly upon cessation of therapy. If the association is unclear, the patient can be rechallenged under close surveillance. Myopathy in the absence of elevated CK can occur. Rarely, hypersensitivity syndromes have been reported that include a lupus-like disorder and peripheral neuropathy.

Reductase inhibitors may be temporarily discontinued in the event of serious illness, trauma, or major surgery to minimize the potential for liver and muscle toxicity.

Use of red yeast rice, a fermentation product that contains statin activity, is not recommended because the statin content is highly variable and some preparations contain a nephrotoxin, citrinin. The long-term safety of these preparations, which often contain a large number of poorly studied organic compounds, has not been established.


Gemfibrozil and fenofibrate decrease levels of VLDL and, in some patients, LDL as well. Another fibrate, bezafibrate, is not yet available in the USA.

Chemistry & Pharmacokinetics

Gemfibrozil is absorbed quantitatively from the intestine and is tightly bound to plasma proteins. It undergoes enterohepatic circulation and readily passes the placenta. The plasma half-life is 1.5 hours. Seventy percent is eliminated through the kidneys, mostly unmodified. The liver modifies some of the drug to hydroxymethyl, carboxyl, or quinol derivatives. Fenofibrate is an isopropyl ester that is hydrolyzed completely in the intestine. Its plasma half-life is 20 hours. Sixty percent is excreted in the urine as the glucuronide, and about 25% in feces.


Mechanism of Action

Fibrates function primarily as ligands for the nuclear transcription receptor, PPAR-α. They transcriptionally up-regulate LPL, apo A-I and apo A-II, and down-regulate apo C-III, an inhibitor of lipolysis. A major effect is an increase in oxidation of fatty acids in liver and striated muscle (Figure 35–4). They increase lipolysis of lipoprotein triglyceride via LPL. Intracellular lipolysis in adipose tissue is decreased. Levels of VLDL decrease, in part as a result of decreased secretion by the liver. Only modest reductions of LDL occur in most patients. In others, especially those with combined hyperlipidemia, LDL often increases as triglycerides are reduced. HDL cholesterol increases moderately. Part of this apparent increase is a consequence of lower triglyceride in plasma, resulting in reduction in the exchange of triglycerides into HDL in place of cholesteryl esters.


FIGURE 35–4 Hepatic and peripheral effects of fibrates. These effects are mediated by activation of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-α, which modulates the expression of several proteins. LPL, lipoprotein lipase; VLDL, very-low-density lipoproteins.

Therapeutic Uses & Dosage

Fibrates are useful drugs in hypertriglyceridemias in which VLDL predominate and in dysbetalipoproteinemia. They also may be of benefit in treating the hypertriglyceridemia that results from treatment with antiviral protease inhibitors. The usual dose of gemfibrozil is 600 mg orally once or twice daily. The dosage of fenofibrate (as Tricor) is one to three 48 mg tablets (or a single 145 mg tablet) daily. Absorption of gemfibrozil is improved when the drug is taken with food.


Rare adverse effects of fibrates include rashes, gastrointestinal symptoms, myopathy, arrhythmias, hypokalemia, and high blood levels of aminotransferases or alkaline phosphatase. A few patients show decreases in white blood count or hematocrit. Both agents potentiate the action of coumarin and indanedione anticoagulants, and doses of these agents should be adjusted. Rhabdomyolysis has occurred rarely. Risk of myopathy increases when fibrates are given with reductase inhibitors. Fenofibrate is the fibrate of choice for use in combination with a statin. Fibrates should be avoided in patients with hepatic or renal dysfunction. There appears to be a modest increase in the risk of cholesterol gallstones, reflecting an increase in the cholesterol content of bile. Therefore, fibrates should be used with caution in patients with biliary tract disease or in those at higher risk such as women, obese patients, and Native Americans.


Niacin (but not niacinamide) decreases triglycerides and LDL levels, and Lp(a) in most patients. It often increases HDL levels significantly. Historically, combination therapy including niacin has been associated with regression of atherosclerotic coronary lesions in three angiographic trials and with extension of life span in one large trial in which patients received niacin alone. Recently, in a prospective randomized trial, HPS2-THRIVE, 2 grams of extended-release niacin was added to a prostanoid receptor inhibitor (laropiprant) and a statin. No significant reduction of major vascular events was observed in the niacin/laropiprant group vs the group that took the statin alone, but the risk of adverse events was increased. The trial did not adequately address individuals with very high triglycerides or Lp(a), or very low levels of HDL. It is likely that niacin offers therapeutic benefit for such patients and those with statin intolerance.

Chemistry & Pharmacokinetics

In its role as a vitamin, niacin (vitamin B3) is converted in the body to the amide, which is incorporated into niacinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which in turn has a critical role in energy metabolism. In pharmacologic doses, it has important effects on lipid metabolism that are poorly understood. It is excreted in the urine unmodified and as several metabolites. One, N-methyl nicotinamide, creates a draft on methyl groups that can occasionally result in erythrocyte macrocytosis, similar to deficiency of folate or vitamin B12.

Mechanism of Action

Niacin inhibits VLDL secretion, in turn decreasing production of LDL (Figure 35–2). Increased clearance of VLDL via the LPL pathway contributes to reduction of triglycerides. Excretion of neutral sterols in the stool is increased acutely as cholesterol is mobilized from tissue pools and a new steady state is reached. The catabolic rate for HDL is decreased. Fibrinogen levels are reduced, and levels of tissue plasminogen activator appear to increase. Niacin inhibits the intracellular lipase of adipose tissue via receptor-mediated signaling, possibly reducing VLDL production by decreasing the flux of free fatty acids to the liver. Sustained inhibition of lipolysis has not been established, however.

Therapeutic Uses & Dosage

In combination with a resin or reductase inhibitor, niacin normalizes LDL in most patients with heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia and other forms of hypercholesterolemia. These combinations are also indicated in some cases of nephrosis. In severe mixed lipemia that is incompletely responsive to diet, niacin often produces marked reduction of triglycerides, an effect enhanced by marine omega-3 fatty acids. It is useful in patients with combined hyperlipidemia and in those with dysbetalipoproteinemia. Niacin is clearly the most effective agent for increasing HDL and the only available agent that may reduce Lp(a).

For treatment of heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia, most patients require 2–6 g of niacin daily; more than this should not be given. For other types of hypercholesterolemia and for hypertriglyceridemia, 1.5–3.5 g daily is often sufficient. Crystalline niacin should be given in divided doses with meals, starting with 100 mg two or three times daily and increasing gradually.


Most persons experience a harmless cutaneous vasodilation and sensation of warmth after each dose when niacin is started or the dose increased. Taking 81–325 mg of aspirin one half hour beforehand blunts this prostaglandin-mediated effect. Naproxen, 220 mg once daily, also mitigates the flush. Tachyphylaxis to flushing usually occurs within a few days at doses above 1.5–3 g daily. Patients should be warned to expect the flush and understand that it is a harmless side effect. Pruritus, rashes, dry skin or mucous membranes, and acanthosis nigricans have been reported. The latter requires the discontinuance of niacin because of its association with insulin resistance. Some patients experience nausea and abdominal discomfort. Many can continue the drug at reduced dosage, with inhibitors of gastric acid secretion or with antacids not containing aluminum. Niacin should be avoided in patients with significant peptic disease.

Reversible elevations in aminotransferases up to twice normal may occur, usually not associated with liver toxicity. However, liver function should be monitored at baseline and at appropriate intervals. Rarely, true hepatotoxicity may occur, and the drug should be discontinued. The association of severe hepatic dysfunction, including acute necrosis, with the use of over-the-counter sustained-release preparations of niacin has been reported. This effect has not been noted to date with an extended-release preparation, Niaspan, given at bedtime in doses of 2 g or less. Carbohydrate tolerance may be moderately impaired, especially in obese patients, but this is usually reversible except in some patients with latent diabetes. Niacin may be given to diabetics who are receiving insulin and to some receiving oral agents but it may increase insulin resistance. This can often be addressed by increasing the dose of insulin or the oral agents. Hyperuricemia occurs in some patients and occasionally precipitates gout. Allopurinol can be given with niacin if needed. Red cell macrocytosis is not an indication for discontinuing treatment. Significant platelet deficiency can occur rarely and is reversible on cessation of treatment. Rarely, niacin is associated with arrhythmias, mostly atrial, and with macular edema. Patients should be instructed to report blurring of distance vision. Niacin may potentiate the action of antihypertensive agents, requiring adjustment of their dosages. Birth defects have been reported in offspring of animals given very high doses.


Colestipol, cholestyramine, and colesevelam are useful only for isolated increases in LDL. In patients who also have hypertriglyceridemia, VLDL levels may be further increased during treatment with resins.

Chemistry & Pharmacokinetics

The bile acid-binding agents are large polymeric cationic exchange resins that are insoluble in water. They bind bile acids in the intestinal lumen and prevent their reabsorption. The resin itself is not absorbed.

Mechanism of Action

Bile acids, metabolites of cholesterol, are normally efficiently reabsorbed in the jejunum and ileum (Figure 35–2). Excretion is increased up to tenfold when resins are given, resulting in enhanced conversion of cholesterol to bile acids in liver via 7α-hydroxylation, which is normally controlled by negative feedback by bile acids. Decreased activation of the FXR receptor by bile acids may result in a modest increase in plasma triglycerides but can also improve glucose metabolism in patients with diabetes. The latter effect is due to increased secretion of the incretin glucagon-like peptide-1 from the intestine, thus increasing insulin secretion. Increased uptake of LDL and IDL from plasma results from up-regulation of LDL receptors, particularly in liver. Therefore, the resins are without effect in patients with homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia who have no functioning receptors but may be useful in those with some residual receptor function and in patients with receptor-defective combined heterozygous states.

Therapeutic Uses & Dosage

The resins are used in treatment of patients with primary hypercholesterolemia, producing approximately 20% reduction in LDL cholesterol in maximal dosage. If resins are used to treat LDL elevations in persons with combined hyperlipidemia, they may cause an increase in VLDL, requiring the addition of a second agent such as a fibrate or niacin. Resins are also used in combination with other drugs to achieve further hypocholesterolemic effect (see below). They may be helpful in relieving pruritus in patients who have cholestasis and bile salt accumulation. Because the resins bind digitalis glycosides, they may be useful in digitalis toxicity.

Colestipol and cholestyramine are available as granular preparations. A gradual increase of dosage of granules from 4 or 5 g/d to 20 g/d is recommended. Total dosages of 30–32 g/d may be needed for maximum effect. The usual dosage for a child is 10–20 g/d. Granular resins are mixed with juice or water and allowed to hydrate for 1 minute. Colestipol is also available in 1 g tablets that must be swallowed whole, with a maximum dose of 16 g daily. Colesevelam is available in 625 mg tablets and as a suspension (1875 mg or 3750 mg packets). The maximum dose is six tablets or 3750 mg as suspension, daily. Resins should be taken in two or three doses with meals.


Common complaints are constipation and bloating, usually relieved by increasing dietary fiber. Resins should be avoided in patients with diverticulitis. Heartburn and diarrhea are occasionally reported. In patients who have preexisting bowel disease or cholestasis, steatorrhea may occur. Malabsorption of vitamin K occurs rarely, leading to hypoprothrombinemia. Prothrombin time should be measured frequently in patients who are taking resins and anticoagulants. Malabsorption of folic acid has been reported rarely. Increased formation of gallstones, particularly in obese persons, was an anticipated adverse effect but has rarely occurred in practice.

Absorption of certain drugs, including those with neutral or cationic charge as well as anions, may be impaired by the resins. These include digitalis glycosides, thiazides, warfarin, tetracycline, thyroxine, iron salts, pravastatin, fluvastatin, ezetimibe, folic acid, phenylbutazone, aspirin, and ascorbic acid, among others. In general, additional medication (except niacin) should be given 1 hour before or at least 2 hours after the resin to ensure adequate absorption. Colesevelam does not bind digoxin, warfarin, or reductase inhibitors.


Ezetimibe inhibits intestinal absorption of phytosterols and cholesterol. Its primary clinical effect is reduction of LDL levels. In one trial, patients receiving ezetimibe in combination with simvastatin had marginal, but not statistically significant, increases in carotid intima-medial thickness (IMT) compared with those receiving simvastatin alone. Interpretation of this observation is difficult for several reasons, including the fact that baseline IMT was unexpectedly small, probably due to prior lipid-lowering therapy. Because reducing LDL levels by virtually every modality has been associated with reduced risk of coronary events, it is reasonable to assume that reduction of LDL by ezetimibe will have a similar impact.

Chemistry & Pharmacokinetics

Ezetimibe is readily absorbed and conjugated in the intestine to an active glucuronide, reaching peak blood levels in 12–14 hours. It undergoes enterohepatic circulation, and its half-life is 22 hours. Approximately 80% of the drug is excreted in feces. Plasma concentrations are substantially increased when it is administered with fibrates and reduced when it is given with cholestyramine. Other resins may also decrease its absorption. There are no significant interactions with warfarin or digoxin.


Mechanism of Action

Ezetimibe selectively inhibits intestinal absorption of cholesterol and phytosterols. A transport protein, NPC1L1, is the target of the drug. It is effective in the absence of dietary cholesterol because it also inhibits reabsorption of cholesterol excreted in the bile.

Therapeutic Uses & Dosage

The effect of ezetimibe on cholesterol absorption is constant over the dosage range of 5–20 mg/d. Therefore, a daily dose of 10 mg is used. Average reduction in LDL cholesterol with ezetimibe alone in patients with primary hypercholesterolemia is about 18%, with minimal increases in HDL cholesterol. It is also effective in patients with phytosterolemia. Ezetimibe is synergistic with reductase inhibitors, producing decrements as great as 25% in LDL cholesterol beyond that achieved with the reductase inhibitor alone.


Ezetimibe does not appear to be a substrate for cytochrome P450 enzymes. Experience to date reveals a low incidence of reversible impaired hepatic function with a small increase in incidence when given with a reductase inhibitor. Myositis has been reported rarely.



Microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (MTP) plays an essential role in the accretion of triglycerides to nascent VLDL in liver, and to chylomicrons in the intestine. Its inhibition decreases VLDL secretion and consequently the accumulation of LDL in plasma. An MTP inhibitor, lomitapide, is available but is currently restricted to patients with homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia. It causes accumulation of triglycerides in the liver in some individuals. Elevations in transaminases can occur. Patients must maintain a low fat diet to avoid steatorrhea but should take steps to minimize deficiency of fat-soluble nutrients. Lomitapide is given orally in gradually increasing doses of 5–60 mg capsules once daily 2 hours after the evening meal. It is available only through a restricted (REMS) program.


Mipomersen is an apo B 20-mer antisense oligonucleotide that targets apo B-100, mainly in the liver. It is important to note that the apo B-100 gene is also transcribed in the retina and in cardiomyocytes. Subcutaneous injections of mipomersen reduce levels of LDL and Lp(a). Mild to moderate injection site reactions and flu-like symptoms can occur. The drug is available only for use in homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia through a restricted (REMS) program.


Cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) inhibitors are under active investigation. The first drug in this class, torcetrapib, aroused great interest because it markedly increased HDL and reduced LDL. However, it was withdrawn from clinical trials because it increased cardiovascular events and deaths in the treatment group. Anacetrapib and evacetrapib are analogs currently in phase 3 clinical trials.


Development of inhibitors of proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) follows on the observation that loss of function mutations result in very low levels of LDL-C and no apparent morbidity. Therapeutic agents currently include antibodies (eg, evolocumab, alirocumab) and antisense oligonucleotides. LDL-C reductions of up to 70% at the highest doses have been achieved with one of these agents when administered parenterally twice weekly. Triglycerides, apo B-100, and Lp(a) were also substantially reduced. No serious adverse effects have been reported in ongoing trials. Development of small molecules with this action is also underway. Studies of this strategy should be approached with caution because of the established role of PCSK9 in normal neuronal apoptosis and cerebral development.


AMP-activated protein kinase acts as a sensor of energy status in cells. When increased ATP availability is required, AMP kinase increases fatty acid oxidation and insulin sensitivity, and inhibits cholesterol and triglyceride biosynthesis. Although the trials to date have been directed at decreasing LDL-C levels, AMP kinase activation may have merit for management of the metabolic syndrome and diabetes. An agent combining AMP kinase activation and ATP citrate lyase inhibition is in clinical trials.


Combined drug therapy is useful (1) when VLDL levels are significantly increased during treatment of hypercholesterolemia with a resin; (2) when LDL and VLDL levels are both elevated initially; (3) when LDL or VLDL levels are not normalized with a single agent, or (4) when an elevated level of Lp(a) or an HDL deficiency coexists with other hyperlipidemias. The lowest effective doses should be used in combination therapy and the patient should be monitored more closely for evidence of toxicity.


This combination is sometimes useful in treating patients with familial combined hyperlipidemia who are intolerant of niacin or statins. However, it may increase the risk of cholelithiasis.


This synergistic combination is useful in the treatment of familial hypercholesterolemia but may not control levels of VLDL in some patients with familial combined hyperlipoproteinemia. Statins should be given 1 hour before or at least 2 hours after the resin to ensure their absorption.


This combination effectively controls VLDL levels during resin therapy of familial combined hyperlipoproteinemia or other disorders involving both increased VLDL and LDL levels. When VLDL and LDL levels are both initially increased, doses of niacin as low as 1–3 g/d may be sufficient in combination with a resin. The niacin-resin combination is effective for treating heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia.

The drugs may be taken together, because niacin does not bind to the resins.


If the maximum tolerated statin dose fails to achieve the LDL cholesterol goal in a patient with hypercholesterolemia, niacin may be helpful. This combination may be useful in the treatment of familial combined hyperlipoproteinemia.


This combination is highly synergistic in treating primary hypercholesterolemia and has some use in the treatment of patients with homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia who have some receptor function.


Fenofibrate appears to be complementary with most statins in the treatment of familial combined hyperlipoproteinemia and other conditions involving elevations of both LDL and VLDL. The combination of fenofibrate with rosuvastatin appears to be well tolerated. Some other statins may interact unfavorably owing to effects on cytochrome P450 metabolism. In any case, particular vigilance for liver and muscle toxicity is indicated.


These agents act in a complementary fashion to normalize cholesterol in patients with severe disorders involving elevated LDL. The effects are sustained, and little compound toxicity has been observed. Effective doses of the individual drugs may be lower than when each is used alone; for example, as little as 1–2 g of niacin may substantially increase the effects of the other agents.

SUMMARY Drugs Used in Dyslipidemia






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This patient has combined hyperlipidemia. The statin should be continued. A drug that reduces VLDL production would be beneficial (niacin or fenofibrate). Although niacin is the preferred agent to increase HDL-C and reduce Lp(a), it may increase insulin resistance. The addition of metformin may become necessary. If the LDL-C goal is not reached, the statin dose could be increased or ezetimibe added. Creatine kinase should be monitored. Marine omega-3 fatty acids will help to reduce triglycerides.