You’ve probably heard about statins—it’s difficult to watch TV these days without seeing a commercial for the drugs. But heavy marketing aside, statins have earned their place as an effective therapy for lowering cholesterol. These powerful drugs do carry risks, however, and they’re not for everybody. Here are some answers to common questions about statins.
Q: What are statins?
A: Statins are HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors that reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad, cholesterol—the kind that builds up in your arteries, leading to blockages, heart attack and stroke. Your healthcare provider may choose from six different statins, including:
- atorvastatin (Lipitor)
- fluvastatin (Lescol)
- lovastatin (Mevacor and Altoprev)
- pravastatin (Pravachol)
- rosuvastatin (Crestor)
- simvastatin (Zocor)
Q: How do statins work?
A: Statins slow your body’s cholesterol production and boost your liver’s ability to clear LDL cholesterol from the blood. Studies show statins can lower LDL cholesterol by 20 percent to 60 percent.
Q: My cholesterol is high; should I take statins?
A: Not necessarily. Although the healthiest level for LDL cholesterol is 100 mg/dL or lower, your healthcare provider may first prescribe lifestyle changes, which include a cholesterol-lowering diet, physical activity and weight management. If these measures don’t lower your cholesterol enough after about six to 12 months, you may need to add drug therapy.
Q: Who should consider statins?
A: Your healthcare provider may prescribe statins based on:
- your LDL cholesterol level (and how far above your target goal it is)
- your coronary heart disease history
- other risk factors you may have, such as low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, age, smoking habits, family history and high blood pressure
- your calculated risk for suffering a heart attack in the next 10 years
People at higher risk for a heart attack and those with more risk factors will have a lower target LDL goal—and may need statins to achieve it—than people at lower risk with higher LDL levels.
Q: How do types of statin drugs differ?
A: Different statins offer different potencies. Generally, your healthcare provider will choose a statin that will lower your LDL by 30 percent to 40 percent.
Q: Do statins have side effects?
A: Some people experience muscle weakness, joint aches, nausea, diarrhea and constipation. Rare side effects include liver damage and muscle problems. Tell your doctor about any new muscle aches, tenderness or other unusual symptoms right away.