High cholesterol affects more than 73 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can build up in your arteries, which lessens or blocks blood flow, and can cause a person to have more risk for heart attacks and strokes.
A type of medication called statins can help reduce high cholesterol and keep you living longer.
What is a statin?
Statin medications interfere with enzymes that produce cholesterol, so the liver doesn’t produce as much of this cholesterol-forming enzyme. Shereif Rezkalla, M.D., a Marshfield Clinic cardiologist, says anyone who has coronary heart disease should be taking statins.
“The majority of my patients take statins, and they usually deal with them very well,” said Dr. Rezkalla.
The most common brand of statin is Lipitor®.
What are the benefits of taking statins?
Anyone who has high cholesterol should take statins. Dr. Rezkalla says you will live longer, have a lower risk for heart attacks and strokes and stay out of the hospital. People with diabetes also should take them.
“Patients with diabetes will benefit more from statins since they can be at a greater risk for a heart attack if they have diabetes and high cholesterol,” said Dr. Rezkalla.
What are the side effects of taking statins?
Liver enzyme changes are a possible side effect. However, the change has to be significantly higher, or around three times the normal amount of these enzymes.
Another side effect is muscle aches and pains. Occasional aches can be tolerable and require little treatment, but a small minority of patients may develop a severe muscle pain or weakness, but doctors monitor this. The final side effect is cognitive impairments such as confusion or memory loss, especially in older people.
“Some patients report cognitive impairments, but it needs more study,” said Dr. Rezkalla. “It is still unclear if statins or other factors affect impairments.”
When should you see a doctor about taking statins?
Most statin treatments should start in young adult life. Children should only take statins if they have a special condition, such as being born with a gene that causes them to have high cholesterol.
Statins are most effective when taking them before going to bed because the enzyme the medication blocks is produced at night.
Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of taking a statin and if you have high cholesterol, make sure it’s routinely checked.