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Statins for High Cholesterol

Statins for High Cholesterol

Examples

Statins

Generic Name Brand Name
atorvastatin Lipitor
fluvastatin Lescol
lovastatin Altoprev, Mevacor
pitavastatin Livalo
pravastatin Pravachol
rosuvastatin Crestor
simvastatin Zocor

How It Works

Statins block an enzyme the body needs to produce cholesterol . As a result, LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels in the blood go down, thereby lowering total blood cholesterol levels.

Statins help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Along with reducing cholesterol levels in the blood, statins reduce inflammation around the cholesterol buildup (called a plaque). By stabilizing the plaque, there is less risk that it will rupture and cause a blood clot that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Why It Is Used

Statins are used to lower cholesterol and risk for heart attack and stroke.

Click here to view a Decision Point. Statins: Should I Take Them?

How Well It Works

Statins lower the levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Statins lower the risk of a heart attack and stroke in people who have heart disease or peripheral arterial disease, had a heart attack, or had a stroke. Statins can also lower risk in people who have risk factors such as high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. 1

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor right away if you have hives.

Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms of a rare muscle problem called rhabdomyolysis :

  • Severe muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness.
  • Dark-colored urine.

Statins don't cause side effects in most people. When side effects happen, they tend to include minor problems like:

  • Muscle aches (not severe pain).
  • Upset stomach.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Headache.

These common side effects may be bothersome but are not serious. Serious side effects are rare. These include liver and muscle problems, diabetes, and temporary memory problems. 2

The side effects of statin medicines are more likely when higher doses are used.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Before taking this medicine, tell your doctor all of the medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, or supplements.

If you have muscle aches when you start this medicine, tell your doctor. The aches may go away with time. Or you might be able to try a lower dose or a different statin medicine.

A heart-healthy lifestyle is important for lowering your risk whether you take statins or not. This includes eating healthy foods, being active, staying at a healthy weight, and not smoking.

Click here to view an Actionset. High Cholesterol: Making Lifestyle Changes

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant. If you need to take this medicine, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Stone NJ, et al. (2013). 2013 ACC/AHA guideline on the treatment of blood cholesterol to reduce atherosclerotic cardiovascular risk in adults: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation, published online November 12, 2013. DOI: 10.1161/01.cir.0000437738.63853.7a. Accessed November 18, 2013.
  2. Statin label changes (2012). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 54(1386): 21.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Current as of March 12, 2014
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