Statins are a type of medication used to lower the level of cholesterol in the blood and protect the insides of the artery walls.
High levels of cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits building up in your arteries which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and can lead to angina, heart attack and stroke.
Why do I need to take statins?
You may be advised to take statins if you’ve had a heart attack or stroke in order to reduce your risk of another event. If you have peripheral arterial disease statins can help to slow the progression. If you are diabetic, you are at a much higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and taking statins will help to reduce this risk.
Even if you’re in good health, you may be prescribed statins if you’re at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease, for example, if you have a strong family history of cardiovascular disease. Statins can help lower your risk. A research study has also suggested statins can help reduce your risk of stroke if you’re aged over 65.
Why do I need to lower my cholesterol?
Cholesterol is essential for your body to work well, but too much ‘bad cholesterol’ (called low-density lipoprotein or LDL) is unhealthy. Statins reduce the amount of ‘bad cholesterol’ your body makes.
High levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ in your blood can lead to fatty deposits building up in your arteries. This can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which includes conditions such as coronary heart disease (leading to angina and heart attack) and stroke.
Your body will always make cholesterol so if you stop taking a statin, it’s likely your cholesterol levels will rise. If you are prescribed a statin, you need to take it every day. Statins are most beneficial when you take them on a long-term basis.
When should I take my statin?
It’s important to take your medication regularly as prescribed. Most statins are taken at night, as this is when most of your cholesterol is produced. Check with your doctor or pharmacist when you should be taking your statin.
Most statins come as tablets. The most common one is simvastatin. Look up your medication on the Medicine Guides website.
Are there any foods, drinks or other medications I should avoid?
Check with your doctor or pharmacist before you take any other medications. Taking certain medicines together may affect how well they work.
If you’re taking simvastatin or atorvastatin, avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice as they can increase your risk of side effects.
If you take another type of statin, limit your intake of grapefruit juice to very small quantities or you may want to avoid it all together.
What are the side effects of statins?
Like all medication, statins have potential side effects. The most common are muscular aches and pains, but many people experience none at all.
A research study suggested that in very rare cases statins may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However statins are among the safest and the most studied medications available today.
If you do experience side effects, or if your side effects change or become worse, tell your GP.
Statins target the liver cells where cholesterol is made. Before you start taking statins, you will have a blood test to check how well your liver works. Your doctor may request that you have a follow-up blood test a few months later. If your liver is affected, your doctor may want to reduce your dose or change your statin to another kind of medication that lowers your cholesterol.
Can I buy statins over the counter?
Low-dose statins are available at some pharmacies without a prescription, but they are not a substitute for prescription statins or for making lifestyle changes to reduce your cholesterol level. If you are at high risk of heart disease, your doctor may prescribe a statin for you.
What are the differences between statins?
Lots of people don’t need a strong statin to reduce their cholesterol level. Your GP or cardiologist will find the right statin for you, depending on your medical history and the cholesterol level they think you should aim for.
If you’re sensitive to one statin, you might not be sensitive to another. You should have a blood test after any change of statin to see how effectively the new medicine is lowering your cholesterol.
Can I take a statin if I’m pregnant?
If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or planning a pregnancy, you should not take statins. If you’re already taking statins but would like to become pregnant, speak to your GP first.
How else can I lower my cholesterol?
You can also lower your cholesterol by:
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
maintaining a healthy weight, BMI and waist circumference
doing regular physical activity
Source: British Heart Foundation