Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower rates of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (so called ‘bad cholesterol’) in the blood. They do this by reducing the production of LDL cholesterol inside the liver.
Why do I need statins?
Having high-rates of LDL cholesterol is potentially dangerous as it can lead to hardening and narrowing of the arteries, which is known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis increases the risk of more serious, and possibly life-threatening, conditions, such as:
coronary heart disease – where the supply of blood to the heart becomes restricted
Statin therapy is usually recommended in the following groups of people:
people with pre-existing heart disease
people who are healthy but have a high risk of developing heart disease at a later date
people who have a high cholesterol level because of a faulty gene they have inherited from their parents – this is known as familial hypercholesterolemia
Statins are not the only option for treating high cholesterol. Alternative treatments include:
eating a healthy diet, low in saturated fats
increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet
other prescribed medications
Many people who take statins experience no or very few side effects. Others do experience troublesome but usually minor side effects, such as an upset stomach, headache or problems sleeping (insomnia). Cases that involve more serious side effects, such as kidney failure, tend to get a great deal of media coverage, but these cases are rare. The British Heart Foundation reports than only 1 in every 10,000 people who take statins will experience a potentially dangerous side effect. Also the risks of any side effects have to be balanced against the benefits of preventing serious conditions such as heart attack and stroke.
Statins can sometimes interact with other medicines and cause unpleasant reactions such as muscle damage. Some types can also interact with grapefruit juice. It is very important to read the information leaflet that comes with your medication to see if there are any interactions you need to be aware of.
If in doubt contact your Doctor or Pharmacist for advice.