Statins are a class of medication that lower cholesterol levels in the blood. Many medical studies have shown that statins are effective in lowering "bad cholesterol" levels (LDL).
If you have had a heart attack or if you have other types of blockages in your arteries, your doctor will recommend that you lower your LDL cholesterol. If diet and exercise alone are not enough to reduce cholesterol levels sufficiently, a medication may be prescribed.
Statins are the most commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication.
How Statins Work
Statins are formally referred to as "HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors" because they slow down the enzyme in the liver (HMG-CoA reductase) that produces cholesterol.
Statins may also help your body reabsorb cholesterol that has built up in plaques on your artery walls, preventing further blockage in your blood vessels and heart attacks.
Several statins have been FDA approved for the treatment of elevated cholesterol levels. All of these are available by prescription-only. Some are available in generic formulations. Statins presently available include the following:
- Atorvastatin (Caduet®, Lipitor®)
- Fluvastatin (Lescol®)
- Lovastatin (Mevacor®)
- Pravastatin (Pravachol®)
- Rosuvastatin (Crestor®)
- Simvastatin (Vytorin®, Zocor®)
Statin Side Effects
Statins are relatively safe for most people, but some can respond differently to the drugs. Certain people may have fewer side effects with one statin drug than another.
The likelihood of experience side effects depends on several factors, including the type of statin used, the dosage and presence of other medical conditions. Some commonly reported side effects include:
- muscle and joint aches (most common)
- diarrhea or constipation
Recently, researchers have found that for a small number of people, statins are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Researchers continue to evaluate these and other side effects.
Some statins, in particular lovastatin and simvastatin, also are known to interact adversely with other drugs.
Statins are not recommended for pregnant patients or those with active or chronic liver disease.
Talk to your doctor if you are taking a statin and are concerned about any possible side effects you may be experiencing.
Risks and Benefits of Statin Use
When prescribing a statin, your doctor will consider several factors
- Your blood cholesterol levels, particularly your LDL cholesterol level
- Your response to other lifestyle measure, such as diet and exercise
- Your personal history of a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or other signs of heart disease
- Your family history of heart disease
- Your age
- The presence of other medical conditions, such as diabetes or obesity, and use of tobacco products (smoking)
- Your use of other medications that may increase your risk of developing side effects from statin use
Talk to your doctor about whether taking a statin is treatment option that you should consider for lowering your cholesterol levels.
Reference: Food and Drug Administration (FDA)