7 Things You Should Know About Statins

Answers to common questions about this class of cholesterol drugs.

statin medicine

The first line of defense against high cholesterol is diet and exercise, but when lifestyle changes aren’t enough, you may need to take a medication such as a statin. Statins (also called HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors) are drugs prescribed and taken to lower cholesterol. Commonly prescribed statins include atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), simvastatin (Zocor), pravastatin (Pravachol), lovastatin (Mevacor; Altoprev), and rosuvastatin (Crestor). Here are 7 things you should know about statins.

1. How do statins lower cholesterol in your blood?

Cholesterol enters your blood stream through the food you eat—it is also produced in your liver cells and released into the blood stream. Statins block the liver’s production of cholesterol, thereby reducing the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

2. Is all cholesterol bad?

There are two types of cholesterol—one is considered “good” (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol or HDL), and one is considered “bad” (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or LDL).

The body needs cholesterol to work properly, but when too much LDL (bad cholesterol) accumulates in your blood, it can stick to the walls of arteries, causing plaque that narrows or blocks them. This can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, or heart attack. HDL (good cholesterol), on the other hand, helps the body get rid of the bad cholesterol.

Simply put, you want to have low levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and high levels of good cholesterol (HDL). Statins lower bad cholesterol (LDL).

3. When might statins be prescribed?

Statins are prescribed to lower cholesterol and subsequently lower your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, or heart attack. Your doctor might prescribe a statin depending on a number of factors, including: 1

  • your total cholesterol levels (good and bad),
  • your age,
  • your family history and personal history of diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease,
  • other health problems associated with high cholesterol,
  • whether or not you smoke,
  • your ethnicity, and
  • your heart disease risk.

4. What are the current guidelines for statin use in people with diabetes?

People with diabetes are two to four times as likely as people without diabetes to have a heart attack or stroke.2 Therefore, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that all people with diabetes over the age of 40 take statins.

  • A moderate-intensity statin is recommended for those ages 40-75 with diabetes who have no additional cardiovascular disease risk factors.2
  • A high-intensity statin is recommended for anyone with cardiovascular disease, and for those ages 40-75 with diabetes who have additional cardiovascular risk factors.2

5. What are the potential side effects when taking statins?

Like most medications, statins have potential side effects. The most common side effects include: muscle pain or weakness; nausea, constipation, or diarrhea; liver damage; and kidney damage.

6. Are there any food or drug interactions I should be aware of?

When combined with statins, certain drugs can increase the risk of experiencing side effects such as a form of muscle damage known as myopathy. Additionally, there is a compound in grapefruit juice that interferes with the breakdown of statins in the body. As a result, more of the drug is absorbed, making it more powerful than intended. It can even be toxic.3 Talk to a member of your healthcare team or your pharmacist about interactions to know your risk.

7. Can statins cause type 2 diabetes?

Recent research has found that statins can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.4 However, research does not support stopping your statins if you have diabetes or were newly diagnosed. If your physician recommends statins as a part of your treatment plan, ask him or her about the risks and benefits to your individual situation.

Updated on: October 28, 2015
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Cholesterol and Diabetes