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What are statins?Statins are a group of medicines that are prescribed by doctors to reduce high blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels can increase the risk of cardiovascular (heart) disease, including heart attacks, strokes and angina.
How do statins work?Your body produces two main types of cholesterol:
- Good (HDL) cholesterol: this helps to clean your blood by taking excess cholesterol back to the liver, where it is reprocessed and passed out of the body.
- Bad (LDL) cholesterol: this is produced by the liver to help your body carry out certain functions, such as metabolism and digestion. Too much bad cholesterol can clog up your blood vessels and make them narrower, which is a major risk factor of heart disease.
What are the side effects of statins1?Most people who take statins experience very few, or no, side effects at all. However, common side effects (affecting 1 in 10 people) can include:
- Myalgia (muscle pain)
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Digestive problems (such as constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion or flatulence)
- Loss of appetite or weight gain
- Insomnia (difficulty with sleeping) or having nightmares
- Dizziness – if you experience this, do not drive or operate machinery
- Loss of sensation or tingling in the nerve endings of the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy)
- Memory problems
- Blurred vision –if you experience this, do not drive or operate machinery
- Ringing in the ears
- Inflammation of the liver (hepatitis), which can cause flu-like symptoms
- Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which can cause stomach pain
- Skin problems, such as acne or an itchy red rash
- Feeling unusually tired or physically weak
- Visual disturbances
- Bleeding or bruising easily
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
How do I take statins?You should take your statin as prescribed by your GP. Most statins are taken at night, as this is when your body produces cholesterol. If you are unsure, speak to your local pharmacist or GP.
Why can’t I eat grapefruit if I take statins?Grapefruit can increase the effect of the statin you are taking by preventing the breakdown of the statin in the liver causing more of it to stay in your bloodstream. This can increase the chance of experiencing a side effect.
Can I drink alcohol if I’m taking statins?Drinking alcohol may interact with the statin you are taking. Speak to your Pharmacist or GP for further advice about your alcohol consumption.
What alternatives are there to statins?Your doctor may prescribe statins if you are at risk of cardiovascular disease, as they are extremely effective at lowering high cholesterol. However, there are other options available to help reduce your cholesterol levels along with the statin treatment.
- Lifestyle changes, including:
- Stopping smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Doing regular physical activity (at least five 30 minute sessions per week)
- Eating healthily, including reducing saturated fats and increasing omega-3 fatty acids in your diet
- Cholesterol lowering products, including:
- Plant sterols