Statins are medications that help reduce your cholesterol levels. Statins drugs work by blocking the very substance that your body needs to manufacture cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat-like waxy compound that is found in all the cells of the body. Cholesterol is necessary for the optimum performance of your body, but too much of cholesterol puts you at a much higher risk for all heart-related diseases. Cholesterol can lead to an accumulation of plaque in the artery walls, slowing down and blocking the blood flow, thus increasing the risk of having a heart attack. Statins are used to regulate cholesterol levels and can also be used for treating other health issues. So how can statins help treat high cholesterol?
What is Cholesterol and What Are Statins?
Cholesterol is a form of lipid that is produced by the liver naturally. Cholesterol is a waxy and fat-like substance, which is important for the formation of certain hormones in the body, cell membranes, and for the formation of vitamin D as well. Cholesterol does not dissolve in water, and therefore, it is capable of traveling through the bloodstream by itself. In order to help cholesterol move through blood, your liver produces lipoproteins, which are compounds manufactured from protein and fat.
Lipoproteins transport cholesterol and triglycerides through the blood. There are two major types of lipoproteins, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). When the blood contains too much of cholesterol carried by low-density lipoprotein (LDL), it is referred to as high cholesterol. High cholesterol levels need to be treated, as it can cause many types of health issues, including a heart attack and a stroke. High cholesterol level also causes no symptoms most of the time, which is why you need to have your cholesterol levels checked from time to time through a blood test.
Statins are a class of drugs that are used to treat high cholesterol. Statins help treat high cholesterol by lowering the cholesterol levels in the blood, especially the levels of LDL or bad cholesterol. Statins are believed to be the ‘gold standard’ in the treatment of high cholesterol and have been proven to save many people from a high risk of heart-related diseases.
People who have high LDL cholesterol levels are at a much higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. When you have cardiovascular disease, the cholesterol starts accumulating in your arteries and can cause a heart attack, stroke, and angina over a period of time. This is why statins are so important in lowering these risks.
Types of Statins
There are many types of branded and generic statins available. More or less all statins work in a similar manner to lower the levels of LDL cholesterol. Some of the commonly available brand names of statins and their generic counterparts include:
- Crestor (rosuvastatin)
- Livalo (pitavastatin)
- Lipitor (atorvastatin)
- Mevacor (lovastatin)
- Vytorin (simvastatin/ezetimibe)
- Lescol (fluvastatin)
- Zocor (simvastatin)
- Pravachol (pravastatin)
Benefits of Taking Statins to Help Treat High Cholesterol
According to the observations by the American Heart Association, statins are the only cholesterol-lowering drugs that have actually been directly linked with lowering the risk of stroke and heart attack. Statins have been proven to reduce the level of LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream and they can also help in elevating the levels of HDL; or good cholesterol in the blood.
Statins can be of benefit to you if you suffer from the following conditions:
- If you have a history of heart disease, including a stroke and heart attack.
- If you are 21 years old or older with an LDL cholesterol level of 190 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) or more.
- If you are between the age of 40 to 74 years old and have an LDL cholesterol level that falls within 7-190 mg/dL, and if you have diabetes, or if you are at high risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
- If you already have heart disease.
If you fall under any of these categories and you are not on statins already, then you should talk with your doctor about whether or not you will benefit from taking statins.
Several clinical trials over the years have shown that statins can successfully lower LDL cholesterol levels by nearly 50 percent. In 2010, a study done by the Heart Research Institute in Sydney, Australia, found that statins also play a big role in increasing the levels of HDL cholesterol and also help lower the levels of triglyceride.
Another benefit of statins is that they also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can have a positive impact on the brain, the heart, and your blood vessels as well. This anti-inflammatory effect of statins also helps reduce the risk of developing blood clots, a heart attack and a stroke. Statins are also known to reduce the likelihood of rejection after an organ transplant. However, further research is still required to understand how statins function in this area.
What are the Risks or Side Effects of Taking Statins?
There are side effects of taking any medications, but with statins, the benefits associated with this class of drugs far outweigh the risks.
Many people feel apprehensive in taking statins due to the adverse side effects associated with these drugs. One of the most commonly occurring side effects of taking statins is muscle pain. Once you start taking statins, you might feel that your muscles are sore, weak and tired. In some rare cases, your muscle pain might even become so severe that it starts interfering with your day-to-day activities as well.
Another side effect of taking statins is that they can cause an increase in your blood sugar levels. This can be a problem if you have diabetes or prediabetes.
Some of the more common side effects of statins include: nausea, constipation and diarrhea. These side effects of statins are usually mild. However, again, the benefits that statins provide far outweigh the risks associated with these drugs.
In some extremely rare cases, statins may cause: liver damage, memory loss, confusion, dementia and rhabdomyolysis, a life-threatening condition that is caused by muscle damage.
It is recommended that people who are taking statins should avoid grapefruit as grapefruit is known to interact with certain statins, making the side effects worse. This is particularly so if you are taking simvastatin and lovastatin.
Most people, though, continue taking statins without experiencing too many side effects, but they can occur. It’s not possible to determine whether one type of statin will cause more complications than another, but if you keep having side effects from statins, then your doctor will either adjust your dosage or shift you to a different statin.
There is no doubt that statins work very well in lowering the levels of LDL cholesterol and also help boost the levels of the good HDL cholesterol. However, before beginning any new medication, you must weigh the benefits and risks carefully and discuss the same with your doctor as well. Understand the impact statins will have on your life and also follow a healthy lifestyle to minimize the risks associated with statins and high cholesterol.
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