Statin Medicines: Get the Facts, Stat!
Several types of medicine can lower cholesterol levels. But a group of medicines called statins are the first choice for most people. Studies have shown that they can substantially reduce the chance of having a heart attack or stroke in at-risk individuals. Here are the key facts you need to know about these widely used medicines.
What exactly is a statin?
Statins are cholesterol-lowering medicines. They help block the production of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol in the liver. This reduces the amount of harmful cholesterol that ends up circulating in your bloodstream. And that slows the buildup of fatty deposits inside your arteries, which could clog them over time.
There are several statin medicines available, including:
Maximizing the benefits
Statins work best for lowering LDL levels. They also help raise HDL (or “good”) cholesterol and reduce triglyceride (blood fat) levels.
Would a statin be helpful for you? That’s a great question to ask your healthcare provider, especially if you:
Have a history of heart disease or stroke caused by atherosclerosis (clogged arteries)
Have an LDL level above 190 mg/dl
Are age 40 to 75 and have diabetes
Are age 40 to 75 and are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease due to atherosclerosis (you provider can help you assess this)
If you take a statin, use it as directed. Be aware that eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice may interfere with how the medicine works. Discuss this with your healthcare provider.
Dealing with side effects
The most common complaint of people taking statins is muscle aches and pains. Yet studies indicate that many muscle aches blamed on statins are likely due to something else. Work with your provider to track down and manage the cause. If it turns out to be a statin, switching to a lower dose or different medicine may help.
Statins may also slightly increase your risk for diabetes, especially if you have other risk factors such as obesity or lack of physical activity. In rare cases, statins may cause:
Severe muscle problems. Contact your healthcare provider immediately if your urine turns dark—a sign of serious muscle damage that could lead to kidney failure.
Liver abnormalities. Your provider may order regular liver function tests to check for this.
Fortunately, most statin side effects are mild and manageable. If taking the medicine helps you avoid a heart attack or stroke, the small risk could be far outweighed by the large reward.