Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes
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The NHS says there are five types of statin available on prescription in the UK. They include atorvastatin, fluvastatin pravastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin. It notes a review of scientific studies into the effectiveness of statins found around one in every 50 people who take the medicine for five years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke, as a result.
Statins lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood, which is often referred to as “bad cholesterol”, and statins reduce the production of it inside the liver.
The NHS says “if you find certain side effects particularly troublesome, talk to the doctor in charge of your care”.
The health body explains that your dose may need to be adjusted or you may need a different type of statin.
You usually have to continue taking statins for life because if you stop taking them, your cholesterol will return to a high level within a few weeks.
It says like all medicines, statins can cause side effects though most people tolerate them well and do not have any problems.
“You should discuss the benefits and risks of taking statins with your doctor before you start taking the medicine.”
The health body says side effects can vary between different statins, but common side effects include:
- Feeling sick
- Feeling unusually tired or physically weak
- Digestive system problems, such as constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion or farting
- Muscle pain
- Sleep problems
- Low blood platelet count.
It adds that statins can occasionally cause muscle inflammation and damage.“Speak to your doctor if you have muscle pain, tenderness or weakness that cannot be explained – for example, pain that is not caused by physical work,” the NHS advises.
It explains: “Your doctor may carry out a blood test to measure a substance in your blood called creatine kinase (CK), which is released into the blood when your muscles are inflamed or damaged.”
The NHS recommends maintaining cholesterol levels below 5mmol/L. In the UK, however, three out of five adults have a total cholesterol of 5mmol/L or above, and the average cholesterol level is about 5.7mmol/L, which can be a risk factor in heart disease.
The Yellow Card Scheme allows you to report suspected side effects from any type of medicine you’re taking.
It is run by a medicines safety watchdog called the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
The purpose of the scheme is to provide an early warning that the safety of a medicine or a medical device may require further investigation.
Side effects reported on Yellow Cards are evaluated, together with additional sources of information such as clinical trial data.
Changing what you eat, being more active, and stopping smoking can also help get your cholesterol back to a healthy level.
The NHS outlines a number of other lifestyle changes you may be able to make to lower your cholesterol.
A key one is to cut down on alcohol. You should try to avoid drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week, and avoid binge drinking.
You can ask your GP for help if you are struggling to cut down.You might need medicine to lower your cholesterol if your cholesterol level has not gone down after changing your diet and lifestyle.
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