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What Is Colestipol?

By Melanie Smeltzer
Updated May 17, 2024
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Colestipol is a medication primarily used to help treat high cholesterol in those at risk for stroke or heart disease. This drug is usually prescribed to people whose cholesterol levels are not being controlled by a healthy diet, but may also be given to help reduce diarrhea after intestinal surgeries or to reduce itching caused by a partial obstruction of bile. Belonging to the bile acid sequestrant drug class, this medication works by promoting the elimination of bile acids from the system.

Cholesterol helps to form bile acids in the liver, which are then secreted into bile and passed into the intestine. When this happens, bile acids are often reabsorbed by the intestine and circulated throughout the body. Taken two to four times a day in the form of granules or tablets, colestipol is not absorbed by the intestine, but instead binds with the bile acids, which causes them to be eliminated from the system. This process forces the liver to change cholesterol into bile acids in order to replace the bile acids that have been eliminated, which is said to result in less cholesterol in the body.

Although 1 mg tablets are available, colestipol is usually given in the form of granule packets. Depending on the needs of the patient, this drug may be given in a single large dose, or divided into two to four smaller doses that should be taken throughout the day. It should never be taken dry, but instead, should be mixed with a small amount of liquid such as water or juice, or mixed into hot cereals or thin soups.

Given that colestipol is a binding drug, it may interfere with the absorption of other types of medication. For instance, diuretics, fat-soluble vitamins like D, A, and K, and certain blood pressure medications may lose effectiveness due to a decrease in absorption. Most patients are advised to take other medications at least four hours after or one hour prior to taking colestipol.

As with most other medications, colestipol does have some side effects. Most adverse reactions develop in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and symptoms can include constipation or diarrhea, bloating or gas, and stomach aches or cramps. Sinus and migraine headaches, as well as muscle and joint pain, are other potential side effects. Though uncommon, dizziness or lightheadedness, insomnia or fatigue, a lack of appetite, or shortness of breath also may be possible.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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