is the leading cause of death in the US, and
plays a major role in the development of heart disease. Cholesterol can be controlled with
statin drugs, a common treatment for many people.
You may think of cholesterol as just a number, but using statins has other benefits to your cardiovascular system. Research has shown that statins may reduce the incidence of
stroke, and death in people without cardiovascular disease. In fact, statins have a primary role in cardiovascular disease prevention.
Like most medications, statins have a good and bad side. In most cases, the benefits outweigh the risks. Here is some information about statins that will make you think beyond your cholesterol number.
Statins have been used primarily to treat high cholesterol. High levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL, the bad cholesterol) combined with low levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL, the good cholesterol) can lead to a condition called
atherosclerosis. Atherolsclerosis is a hardening of the arteries due to a build up of plaque on the inner walls. It is a condition that can lead to a
Statin drugs, like atorvastatin, pravastatin, and simvastatin, work by inhibiting a liver enzyme that is involved in the production of cholesterol. They are most effective at lowering levels of LDL cholesterol and may also contribute to increasing levels of HDL cholesterol.
Statins have become a popular choice to treat cholesterol problems because they are effective and generally well-tolerated.
Researchers have investigated the potential health benefits of taking statins. There is evidence that statins may reduce the risk of: Heart attack and death in people with heart disease with or without high cholesterolCardiovascular events and death in people who are at high risk of developing cardiovascular diseaseHeart attack, stroke, and death in people with elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a sign of inflammation in the bodyCardiovascular events in women who have cardiovascular disease
Surgery to improve blood flow to the heart and unstable
Statins may also help lower blood pressure.
If your doctor prescribes statins, some common side effects that you may have include: Muscle or joint pain
diarrheaConstipationSleep problemsFatigueAnxietyHeadacheItchy skin
Serious possible side effects include: Memory loss and confusionIncreased blood sugar levels, may increase risk of diabetesLiver damage—Taking statins can lead to changes in liver enzymes and occasionally liver damage.Muscle pain or weakness—Some people who take statins develop muscle damage. With severe cases, your body may release the protein myoglobin, which can damage the kidneys.Cancer—There have been numerous scientific studies about the use of statins and the risk of cancer, but the evidence is conflicting.
As with any medication there may also be a risk of an interaction with other medications.
If you have cholesterol problems, have coronary artery disease, or are at risk for coronary artery disease, your doctor will weight the benefits and risk of taking medications like statins. Be sure to discuss your medical history and any concerns that you may have about taking this kind of medicine. Keep in mind, too, that a healthy cardiovascular system depends on more than just taking statins. Your doctor will most likely recommend that you make lifestyle changes that include eating a healthier diet and exercising more.
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Last reviewed March 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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