The Truth about Using Statins
If you feel like you’ve been hearing more about a class of drugs called statins in the past couple of years, you’re probably right.
New cholesterol guidelines issued by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) in late 2013 dramatically changed doctors’ approach to heart disease prevention. The end result: A reclassification of the types of patients who should be prescribed statins.
According to the guidelines, if you fall into one of the following four high-risk categories, taking a statin could help you sidestep a heart attack or stroke:
- You’ve been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or have suffered a heart attack.
- Your level of LDL (the harmful type of cholesterol) is 190 mg/dL or higher.
- You have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and your LDL is 70 mg/dL or higher.
- Your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years is 7.5 percent or higher, according the ACC/AHA risk calculator (a simple algorithm your doctor can perform during a standard office visit that takes into account age, smoking status, race and other factors).
Statins not only reduce cholesterol by blocking a substance your body needs to make cholesterol, they can also lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, and even death from heart disease by up to 20-30 percent by reducing inflammation. So, over the course of five years, statins prevent one or two heart attacks for every 100 patients who take the drug.
Misconceptions About Statins
Nevertheless, news reports about dangerous, even life-threatening side effects have some patients shying away from statins, even when a family history of heart disease, elevated cholesterol and blood pressure levels place them at high risk of heart trouble.
While it’s always good to be informed about the medications you are taking and potential side effects, let’s set the record straight regarding six common beliefs about statins:
- Statins cause muscle aches.
The truth: While serious side effects of statins are rare, about 5-10 percent of patients report muscle aches. Most of these symptoms can be eliminated by taking a different type or dose of statin. As with any medication, statin therapy requires some trial and error to identify the best tolerated therapy for each patient. The good news: There are a lot of options for statin medication, so it’s likely you and your doctor will uncover an appropriate fit.
- Statins lead to memory loss.
The truth: Some people have experienced memory loss and confusion after starting a statin, but there is no high-quality evidence linking statin use to memory loss or the inability to think straight. In fact, numerous studies suggest that statins may improve brain function.
- Statins increase the risk of diabetes.
The truth: Taking a statin can increase blood sugar levels. If you’re already pre-diabetic, that slight hike in blood sugar could push you into diabetes. Even so, research suggests that this risk of diabetes caused by statins is about 0.5-1%. So in that sense, the benefits of statin therapy greatly outweigh the risks.
- Statins encourage poor lifestyle choices.
The truth: While there may be some patients who think popping a statin can protect them from poor lifestyle choices, most people view the prescription for what it is: A drug that works in concert with healthy behaviors to reduce heart disease risk.
- Taking statins for life is cost-prohibitive.
The truth: Historically, the expense of statin therapy (which is typically a lifelong commitment) was too much for the average patient. Today, nearly all statins have a generic counterpart, so they’re more affordable.
- Taking a daily statin means I’m failing at my health.
The truth: Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower your heart disease risk. But that’s no reason to withhold a lifesaving treatment. If you are at risk, don’t wait until you have a heart attack or stroke to take action. Be proactive instead. Stop smoking (and avoid second-hand smoke), eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, and supplement those healthy behaviors with the necessary prescription medications.
In general, statins are well-tolerated, effective medication with little risk to patients. The key, of course, is working with your doctor to identify the drug that works best for your unique circumstances.
For an appointment or to find a doctor, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
The Henry Ford Women’s Heart Center is designed to provide life-changing support to women with heart disease or cardiovascular risk factors. Learn more about how a comprehensive Lifestyle Enhancement Visit may help you or call (313) 876-4540 to make an appointment.