By Libby Pellegrini MMS, PA-C
Statins represent one of the most commonly prescribed medication categories in the United States. In fact, two of the top five prescribed drugs in 2018 were statins.
Though they are ubiquitous, it is not immediately obvious who should be taking a statin in the first place. Read on to learn more about statins and whether you should discuss this type of therapy with your healthcare provider.
A statin is a medication used to lower blood cholesterol levels and thereby prevent the formation of cholesterol-laden plaques in the arteries of the heart. By taking a statin to lower your blood cholesterol, you can reduce your risk of developing heart disease, and potentially avoid the unsavory problems associated with heart disease, such as heart attack and stroke.
Statins work by blocking an enzyme in the liver that is involved in the production of cholesterol. Statins are generally the first line of medication that is considered by healthcare providers when it comes to helping patients lower their cholesterol levels. Statins can be particularly effective when it comes to lowering a specific type of cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called “bad” cholesterol. Most statins are taken orally, on a daily basis.
To determine whether or not you need a statin, your healthcare provider will examine your overall health status and cardiovascular risk. He or she can use a risk assessment calculator to establish your personal risk of developing heart disease over the next 10 years. This calculation will take into account such factors as your age, sex, race, blood pressure, current cholesterol levels, whether you have diabetes, and whether you smoke cigarettes.
Other important considerations when it comes to cardiovascular risk assessment include your family history, your weight, and your lifestyle. If you have known coronary artery disease (plaques in your arteries), diabetes, very high cholesterol levels, or a high calculated risk, your healthcare provider is more likely to recommend a statin.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force USPSTF) recommends that a statin be prescribed for people ages 40 to 75 without a history of cardiovascular disease who are calculated to have a 10 percent or greater risk of having a cardiovascular event within the next 10 years.
If your cardiovascular risk is determined to be low, a statin may not be necessary. However, regardless of your age or cardiovascular risk, lifestyle factors are critical when it comes to maintaining your cardiovascular health.
The American Heart Association recommends the following to optimize your cardiovascular health:
- Eat a diet high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and fish
- Reduce your intake of saturated fats, trans fats, red meats, processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and added sugar
- Get 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity five times a week
- Do not smoke cigarettes
- Keep conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes well-controlled
Every prescription medication carries a risk of side effects, and statins are no exception. Statins are notorious for causing muscle pain and soreness. Rarely, statins can cause a more serious muscle condition called rhabdomyolysis, in which excessive muscle cell breakdown can damage the kidneys.
Statins are also known to raise blood sugar, sometimes tipping people into a prediabetic or diabetic state. Make sure to discuss the risks and benefits of statin therapy with your healthcare provider to ensure that you feel confident taking the medication.
If, after a thorough conversation about the potential risks and benefits of statins, your healthcare provider prescribes you this medication, take action to lock in the best prescription price. You can use a ScriptSave® WellRx savings card to find the lowest price for your statin, and other medications, too.
Libby Pellegrini is a nationally certified physician assistant. She currently works in emergency medicine where she sees and treats a broad spectrum of illnesses across all age ranges. She holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University.