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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Statins are a type of medication that is classed as lipid-regulating medications. Lipids are fat compounds found in the body that include cholesterol and triglycerides. They are used for many important functions, but sometimes there is too much of a good thing!

High levels of non-HDL cholesterol and triglycerides can lead to the build-up of fatty deposits in your arteries (known as atherosclerosis), increasing your risk of developing cardiovascular problems such as coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, or stroke. Therefore, taking a statin reduces this risk.

Statins reduce the production of 'bad cholesterol' (non-HDL cholesterol), lower triglyceride levels, and increase 'good cholesterol' (HDL cholesterol) levels in your body. Statins work by inhibiting an enzyme in your body called HMG-CoA reductase. There are seven statins available on prescription in the US. These are atorvastatin, simvastatin, rosuvastatin, pravastatin, lovastatin, pitavastatin, and fluvastatin.

Who are they for?

Statins are mainly prescribed in adults, but sometimes they can also be used in children. Statins are for people with high levels of non-HDL cholesterol and triglycerides in their blood. Lifestyle factors and genetics can both play a part in this. Older people with normal lipid levels may also be prescribed a statin if they are at a high risk of developing cardiovascular problems.

How should I take a statin?

Your doctor will tell you exactly how to take your statin. Generally, statins should be taken once a day. Simvastatin, lovastatin, and fluvastatin should be taken at night (as they work better at this time). The other statins can be taken at any time of the day. Ideally, try to take your statin at the same time each day.

Grapefruit juice can interact with simvastatin, lovastatin, and atorvastatin, increasing your risk of developing side effects. Therefore, you should try to avoid drinking grapefruit juice. Statins can be taken with or without food. Women of childbearing age need to use contraception when taking a statin because statins carry a risk of causing birth defects. When taking a statin, your doctor may want to order blood tests to check if it is working and not causing any problems.

Should anyone avoid taking a statin?

Do not take a specific statin if you have previously had an allergic reaction to that specific statin or another ingredient listed in the medication. Statins are not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Ideally, women should stop taking statins three months before trying to conceive. Women that want to try for a baby when taking a statin should make an appointment to see their doctor to discuss further.

Some people are bound to get unwanted side effects, as with any medication. Common symptoms include feeling sick, constipation or diarrhea, gas, stomach upset, headache, dizziness, physical weakness, and difficulty sleeping.

Muscle complaints are important side effects to look out for when taking a statin because they may indicate a severe medical condition called rhabdomyolysis (however, this is a rare occurrence from statin use). It is due to the breakdown of muscles and can lead to kidney damage. Therefore, you should speak with your doctor if you develop any unexplained muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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