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 for normal cell and body function. But too much can be harmful. Very high levels can promote plaque buildup in the walls of arteries and block blood flow as a result.
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 likelihood 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, in turn, allows the liver to accept more cholesterol from the blood, thereby driving down cholesterol levels. They can drive down low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels — the “bad” cholesterol — by more than 50%.
Statins also appear to help prevent heart attacks and strokes by keeping plaques from rupturing (breaking apart) and forming clots that can move to the heart or brain. In addition, they can lower triglycerides and slightly 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 lifestyle choices.
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 hesitant to take 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 provider, share concerns and ask questions. For example:
Remember: If your health care provider 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 health care provider may have already talked with you about how a risk calculator can be used to determine your risk of developing ASCVD or having a heart attack or stroke. This calculator factors in things like:
Because your risk can change over time, it’s important to have ongoing conversations with your health care provider about what steps you can take to stay healthy.
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 determine your risk.
Begin treatment if you’re deemed to be at high risk for heart attack or stroke.
Come back for repeat testing.
Not all statins are the same. If you have a side effect with one or even several 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 provider may recommend non-statin therapies.
These might include ezetimibe, which blocks cholesterol from being absorbed in the intestine, and the newer proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) inhibitors.