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Statins 101

written by Vidya Sury October 23, 2010

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This cholesterol treatment has made a huge difference in the lives of many people with high cholesterol. Find out how it works, and if you can benefit.

What are Statins?

A statin is a type of cholesterol medication used to help lower high cholesterol when lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, aren’t enough on their own.

Also known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, statin will help to increase HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol), and lower LDL cholesterol (low density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol).

Statins also slow down the formation of sticky plaque in your arteries. If this plaque continues to build, your arteries could clog, blocking blood passage to vital parts of your body, like your brain and your heart, and causing heart attack or stroke. 

How Statins Work

Statins work by interfering with how your liver produces cholesterol. Specifically, statins block an enzyme that allows your liver to produce cholesterol, and prevents excess cholesterol from entering your bloodstream. Statins also have antioxidant properties: By preventing LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, statins helps to reduce plaque formation.

Statins have anti-inflammatory properties, too, which may help to prevent plaque in your arteries from rupturing and forming clots that can break free into your bloodstream and cause a stroke or heart attack.

Research has found that this cholesterol medication may even help people who have moderately elevated cholesterol levels.

Types of Statins

Your doctor may prescribe one of the following statins:

    * Lipitor (atorvastatin)
    * Lescol (fluvastatin)
    * Mevacor or Altoprev (lovastatin)
    * Pravachol (pravastatin)
    * Crestor (rosuvastatin)
    * Zocor (simvastatin)

All statins are essentially alike, but they come in different doses.

Doctors typically recommend that you take your cholesterol medication at night because your body manufactures more cholesterol overnight than during the day.

Also, it will take several weeks to see some benefit from statin therapy. Your doctor will usually check your cholesterol level after about six to eight weeks to see how well the statin is working.

Statin Side Effects

Statins are considered to be safe for most men and women with high cholesterol, but certain people may react differently to this type of drug. You can work with your doctor to try a different statin if you have side effects from the first type that you try. Doctors already know that Zocor, Mevacor, and Altoprev may interact negatively with other drugs. So be sure to provide your doctor with a complete list of all of your medications to help guide the decision on which statin to use.

Even though statins are safely taken by millions of people, there can be side effects. Serious side effects are uncommon, however. The most common side effects include bowel irregularity and mild abdominal discomfort, but these symptoms often fade as your system adjusts to the cholesterol medication. More serious side effects include:

  • Liver toxicity, although rare, can occur while taking statins. Your doctor will monitor your liver function if you have liver disease.
  • Muscle aches or tenderness may be a sign of a rare muscle condition called myositis. If this happens, your doctor may perform a muscle enzyme blood test to keep tabs on myositis. Two common antibiotics, erythromycin and clarithromycin, can increase your risk of statin-induced myositis.

Despite the possibility of side effects, a recent study of almost 230,000 people with high cholesterol found that those who faithfully took their statin medications were more likely to be alive in four to five years after starting therapy than those who didn’t take their medication regularly.

Thank you, everyday health

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Stay healthy!
Vidya Sury

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S.R.Ayyangar October 23, 2010 at 11:04 am

On looking to my lipid profile and higher side cholesterol level, a cardiologist from a highly reputed hospital set it aside telling me that he does not believe in such reports as they keep changing from day to day, clinic to clinic and the type of food one has taken 24 hrs before the test. He did not prescribe any medicine! Do you think I should go for second consultation?

Vidya Sury October 23, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Definitely. Cholesterol levels do vary at different times, but if it is high, do not ignore it. Moreover, it is easy to bring it down with diet and a brisk walk everyday, if you can.


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