Do I Need a Statin for High Cholesterol?
Statins are powerful drugs that can help lower cholesterol and risk of heart disease, but they aren’t for everyone.
Without cholesterol, you couldn’t live. It helps form cell membranes, a number of hormones, and fat-dissolving bile acids, among other things. Most people, though, have too much cholesterol in their blood – often from eating fatty foods. It clogs the arteries and puts you at risk for coronary heart disease.
Reducing saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet, shedding excess weight, and exercising can help you lower your cholesterol. These lifestyle changes are the first line of defense in fighting high cholesterol. But sometimes they are not enough.
A powerful weapon against heart disease
Statins have become one of the most powerful weapons against heart disease. Studies have shown that statins can cut the risk of cardiovascular disease by about one third. Statins were once reserved for people with dangerously high cholesterol. Now they are often prescribed for people who have moderately high cholesterol levels along with other risk factors for heart disease.
Statins are also called HMA CoA reductase inhibitors.
Side effects: one consideration
Like a lot of other powerful drugs, statins pose certain health risks and should not be used by everyone.
One possible side effect of statins is called rhabdomyolysis, in which muscle tissue breaks down. The condition, which can occur when taking any statin, is rare. But it can lead to kidney failure and can be fatal. If you are taking a statin and have muscle pain, tell your doctor right away.
Statins can also cause liver damage. If you take them, you should get regular liver function tests. If you already have liver problems, you may not be able to take them. There are also some other medicines that can interact with statins. So be sure to tell your doctor about all other medicines or supplements that you are taking.
Are there other things to consider?
In general, the higher your LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) level and the more risk factors you have (other than LDL), the greater your chance of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) or having a heart attack. But, your doctor will take other things into account besides your LDL levels when making your treatment plan. First, your risk factors for heart disease will be considered. You can change some of them, but not others.
The major factors that increase your risk of a heart attack are:
- Cigarette smoking
- High blood pressure
- Low HDL cholesterol or “good” cholesterol (American Heart Association recommends less than 40 mg/dL for men, less than 50 mg/dL for women.)
- High LDL
- Family history of early heart disease (heart disease in father or brother before age 55; heart disease in mother or sister before age 65)
- Age (men 45 years or older; women 55 years or older)
- Physical inactivity
- Having diabetes
Even if your doctor feels you need a cholesterol-lowering drug, lifestyle changes are still needed, including a cholesterol-lowering diet, physical activity, and weight management. Always check with your doctor first before you increase your activity level.
Remember, taking statins is a lifelong commitment. Even if your cholesterol level goes down, you will probably need to keep taking the medication to keep it there, unless you’ve also made significant lifestyle changes.
Talk to your doctor about whether statins are right for you.