Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood.
LDL cholesterol is often referred to as "bad cholesterol", and statins reduce the production of it inside the liver.
Why have I been offered statins?
CVD is a general term that describes a disease of the heart or blood vessels. It's the most common cause of death in the UK.
The main types of CVD are:
- coronary heart disease ↗ – when the blood supply to the heart becomes restricted
- angina ↗ – sharp chest pain, caused by coronary heart disease
- heart attacks ↗ – when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked
- stroke ↗ – when the supply of blood to the brain becomes blocked
Your doctor may recommend taking statins if either:
- you've been diagnosed with a form of CVD
- your personal and family medical history suggests you're likely to develop CVD at some point over the next 10 years and lifestyle measures haven't reduced this risk
Read more about when statins may be recommended ↗.
Statins come as tablets that are taken once a day. For some types of statin it doesn't matter what time of day you take it, as long as you stick to the same time. Some types of statin should be taken in the evening.
Check with your doctor whether there's a particular time of day you should take your 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.
If you forget to take your dose, don't take an extra one to make up for it. Just take your next dose as usual the following day.
If you accidentally take too many statin tablets (more than your usual daily dose), contact your doctor or pharmacist for advice, or call NHS 111 ↗.
Cautions and interactions
Statins can sometimes interact with other medicines, increasing the risk of unpleasant side effects, such as muscle damage. Some types of statin can also interact with grapefruit juice.
It's very important to read the information leaflet that comes with your medication, to check if there are any interactions you should be aware of. If in doubt, contact your GP or pharmacist for advice.
Read more things to consider when taking statins ↗.
Side effects of statins
Many people who take statins experience no or very few side effects. Others experience some troublesome – but usually minor – side effects, such as diarrhoea ↗, headache ↗ or feeling sick. Your doctor should discuss the risks and benefits of taking statins if they're offered to you.
The risks of any side effects also have to be balanced against the benefits of preventing serious problems. A review of scientific studies into the effectiveness of statins found that around 1 in every 50 people who take the medication for 5 years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke, as a result.
Read more about the side effects of statins ↗.
Alternatives to statins
If you're at risk of developing CVD in the near future, your doctor will usually recommend lifestyle changes to reduce this risk before they suggest that you take statins.
Lifestyle changes that can reduce your cholesterol level and CVD risk include:
- eating a healthy, balanced diet ↗
- exercising regularly ↗
- maintaining a healthy weight ↗
- limiting the amount of alcohol you drink ↗
- stopping smoking ↗
Statins may be recommended if these measures don't help.