What are statins? Statins are medications that are used to help lower cholesterol levels. But statins don’t just help keep cholesterol levels in check, they also protect your heart.
Studies show that, for many people, these medications can:
Our bodies make and need some cholesterol to work. But too much can hurt your heart health. Very high levels can promote the buildup of cholesterol, fat and other substances – also called plaque – in the walls of arteries. This buildup can block blood flow.
Unlike a headache, chest cold or stomach upset, high cholesterol usually has no symptoms. But it’s a big red flag when it comes to the chance that someone will develop heart or blood vessel problems.
Statins lower cholesterol in the blood by reducing the liver’s ability to make cholesterol. This allows the liver to accept more cholesterol from the blood, which in turn drives down cholesterol levels. They can drive down low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels – the “bad” cholesterol – by more than 50%.
Statins also help prevent heart attacks and strokes by keeping plaques from breaking apart and forming clots that can move to the heart or brain. In addition, they can lower triglycerides and boost high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – known as the “good” cholesterol.
Statins work best when combined with a heart-healthy eating plan, regular exercise and other healthy habits.
Statins are often recommended to help prevent a first heart attack or stroke (called primary prevention).
They are also used to reduce the risk of having a repeat heart attack or stroke in someone who has already had one (called secondary prevention).In general, you should consider being on a statin if you: *
Despite recommendations, many people are worried about taking a statin, most often due to fears of side effects they have read or heard about. But most people who take a statin do not have side effects.
As with starting any medication, it is important to talk with your health care team, share concerns, and ask questions. For example:
Remember: If your health care team suggests that you take a statin, it’s all to help lower the chances that you will have a heart attack or stroke caused by atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD).
ASCVD develops because of a buildup of sticky, cholesterol-rich plaque. Over time, this plaque can build up and narrow the arteries.
Your care team may have already talked with you about how a risk calculator can be used to find your risk of developing ASCVD or having a heart attack or stroke. This calculator factors in things like:
Your care team may also consider other factors that play a role or affect your risk. Because your risk can change over time, it’s important to keep talking with your care team about what steps you can take to stay healthy as you age.
Keep in mind that making lifestyle changes – in addition to taking a statin or other medication – can help protect your heart and improve your overall health.
Assess and know your risk.
Begin treatment if you’re found to be at high risk for heart attack or stroke or already had either.
Come back for repeat testing.
Not all statins are the same. If you have a side effect with one or even more than one of the available statins, you still may be OK to take a lower amount (dose) of statin, a different statin or a (non-daily) longer-acting statin.
If statins aren’t enough to lower your ASCVD risk or you can’t take them for some reason, your health care team may recommend non-statin therapies.
These might include ezetimibe, which blocks cholesterol from being absorbed in the intestine, proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) inhibitors or bempedoic acid.