Statins explained: What are they and when will you be prescribed them?

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If you’ve got high cholesterol levels, your doctor might talk to you about taking statins, a medicine to lower cholesterol and protect the walls of your arteries. Your doctor will decide whether a statin is the right course of action for you, but this is a guide to how statins work, and when you’re likely to be given them.

Having high cholesterol puts you at greater risk of serious health events including heart attacks and stroke.

Unfortunately, high cholesterol has very few symptoms, meaning it sometimes gets nicknamed the “silent killer”.

The only way to know if your cholesterol levels are climbing towards the danger zone is to get a cholesterol reading from your doctor or pharmacist.

If a cholesterol test shows your numbers are high, your doctor might recommend you start taking a medicine called statins.

What are statins?

Statins are a medicine prescribed to people with high cholesterol or who otherwise are considered “high risk” for heart disease.

They lower your body’s levels of cholesterol by slowing the production of cholesterol in your liver.

Statins tend to come in the form of a tablet you have to take daily.

Different types of statins have different levels of intensity, so your doctor may need to assess whether you need a mild or stronger statin.

Some statins need to be taken at a specific time of day, listen to your doctor’s advice on when you should take your medicine daily.

What are the side effects of statins?

According to the NHS, “many” people who take statins don’t experience any side effects.

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The NHS says side effects are usually minor, although they can be unpleasant, including symptoms like headaches, diarrhoea and feeling sick.

The British Heart Foundation says muscle aches and pains are one of the most common side effects of statins.

Taking other medicines while you’re taking statins can make statins less effective, so make sure you tell your doctor all the medicines you currently take.

If you are taking types of statins called simvastatin or atorvastatin, you should avoid eating grapefruits or drinking grapefruit juice, as it can cause nasty side effects.

The British Heart Foundation recommends avoiding grapefruit while taking other types of statins too.

If you are prescribed statins, your doctor is likely to also recommend other measures to reduce your risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.

They may recommend changes to your diet, as well as adopting a more active lifestyle, in order to improve your cardiovascular fitness and bring your cholesterol levels down.

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