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.
Statins work by stopping your liver producing this bad cholesterol, which means your body has to use the cholesterol from your blood stream instead. Using cholesterol from your blood stream helps to reduce the amount stored in your body.
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)
It is unclear whether the common problems experienced by people taking statins are caused by their medication or not.
More uncommon side effects (which may affect up to 1 in 100 people) include:
- 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
Rarer side effects (which may affect up to 1 in 1000 people) include:
- Visual disturbances
- Bleeding or bruising easily
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
Always refer to the information leaflet that comes with your medication for side effects relating to your specific medicine. If you have any concerns, speak to your Pharmacist or GP.
You can report side effects via the Yellow Card Scheme , which is run by the medicines safety watchdog the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
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
Please follow advice from your pharmacist or GP about what medication is most suitable for your needs.
Can I take statins if I’m pregnant?
Women should not take statins if pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding. If you are taking statins and would like to become pregnant, then speak to your GP first.
Can statins affect my muscles?
Statins may occasionally cause muscle inflammation (swelling) and damage. If you experience any muscle pain, tenderness or weakness that cannot be explained, then speak to your GP, who may carry out a blood test to see if your muscles are damaged.
Can taking statins cause diabetes?
Taking statins can affect blood glucose control, so there is a chance, they may contribute to developing Type 2 diabetes. You can help prevent this by reducing your risk of Type 2 diabetes in other areas such as physical activity and BMI. If you have diabetes, statins play an important role in managing your cardiovascular health.
Can taking statins affect my blood pressure?
Statins may contribute to lowering blood pressure although this needs to be thoroughly investigated and evaluated. A recent clinical trial in North America, looking at the effects of statins, showed a slight reduction in patients’ blood pressure when comparing patients taking a statin and those not2
. Statins should not be relied on to reduce blood pressure but used with lifestyle changes and blood pressure medicines to reduce levels.
Can I stop taking statins?
You should not stop taking statins unless advised to by your GP. Stopping your medication may cause your cholesterol to rise again, putting you at increased risk of heart disease.
1. NHS Choices
2. Reduction in Blood Pressure With Statins: Results From the UCSD Statin Study, a Randomized Trial Beatrice A. Golomb, MD, PhD; Joel E. Dimsdale, MD; Halbert L. White, PhD; Janis B. Ritchie, BSN; Michael H. Criqui, MD, MPH. Author Affiliations: Departments of Medicine (Drs Golomb and Criqui and Ms Ritchie), Family and Preventive Medicine (Drs Golomb and Criqui), Psychiatry (Dr Dimsdale), and Economics (Dr White), University of California, San Diego, La Jolla.Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(7):721-727. doi:10.1001/archinte.168.7.721.