Statins are drugs that work by constraining the enzyme HMG CoA reductase. This enzyme regulates how quickly cholesterol is produced in the body. By slowing this enzyme, these compounds are able to lower LDL cholesterol levels more effectively than many other cholesterol drugs currently on the market.
In fact, some studies have suggested that these cholesterol-lowering drugs can lower bad cholesterol by up to 60%, which can be very good news for people with severely elevated LDL-cholesterol. Some studies have also shown that they may contribute to lowering triglyceride levels and even slightly increasing HDL cholesterol levels.
All these benefits make statins among the most commonly used drugs for lowering cholesterol. The statins most used today are pravastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin, simvastatin, and atorvastatin.
If you take one of these drugs to lower your cholesterol, you can expect to see results in a few weeks. You will have to take your medications at night, with food.
Side Effects of Statins
Although statins have fewer side effects than many other cholesterol-lowering drugs, some patients experience cramps, gas, stomach upset, constipation and other digestive problems.
The most important adverse side effects are muscle problems, an increased risk of diabetes, and increased liver enzymes in the blood due to liver damage. Other possible adverse effects include cognitive loss, neuropathy, pancreatic and hepatic dysfunction, and sexual dysfunction.
The rate at which such events occur has been widely debated, in part because the risk/benefit ratio of statins in low risk populations is highly dependent on the rate of adverse events. A Cochrane group meta analysis of statin clinical trials in primary prevention found no evidence of excess adverse events among those treated with statins compared to placebo.
Another meta analysis found a 39% increase in adverse events in statin treated people relative to those receiving placebo, but no increase in serious adverse events.
A systematic review by the Canadian Working Group Consensus Conference that considered published meta analyses of clinical trials, spontaneous adverse event reports to the FDA, and published cohort studies concluded that while clinical trial meta analyses underestimate the rate of muscle pain associated with statin use, the rates of rhabdomyolysis are still “reassuringly low” and similar to those seen in clinical trials (about 1-2 per 10,000 patient years).
In many cases, these symptoms go away by themselves or at least become less severe as the body adjusts to the statins. In some case, your doctor may suggest taking a lower dosage in order to control side effects. More serious complications from statins include the risks of muscle problems and liver problems.
These complications are quite rare in patients who take statins, but if you notice any pain or unusual symptoms while taking statins, you will want to seek medical help right away.