GEHA | September 12, 2019
Statins are drugs that can lower your cholesterol levels. They work by blocking a substance your body needs to make cholesterol. Having too much cholesterol in your blood increases your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Common statins include atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol XL), lovastatin (Altoprev), pitavastatin (Livalo), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor, Ezallor) and simvastatin (Zocor, FloLipid).
High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, are fancy ways of saying good or bad cholesterol. But which is which? And how can you make sure you are getting the right kind?
HDL is the good cholesterol. It absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver, which then removes it from the body. High levels of HDL can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Conversely, LDL is bad cholesterol. LDL comprises most of the body’s cholesterol and can increase the risk of stroke or heart attack.
LDL is dangerous because it can build up in the walls of your arteries and, narrowing the vessel. In plumbing terms, think of LDL as the calcium and deposits that accumulate inside pipes. These deposits restrict the amount of water that can move through the pipe. Veins and arteries work in a similar way. The narrowing of arteries impedes the flow of blood to and from the heart. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can cause chest pain or a heart attack.
LDL can be stubborn to remove, but the method is no mystery. The key is to eat healthy, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, stop smoking and moderate alcohol consumption. Starting (or continuing) these healthy habits bring a myriad of benefits that help all over the body, including reducing blood sugar levels. Whether you need to be on a statin depends on your cholesterol levels and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Your doctor will consider all your risk factors for heart attacks and strokes before prescribing a statin.
If you take a statin and your cholesterol goes down, don’t stop taking it. If the statin helped lower your cholesterol, you will likely need to stay on it for the long term. If you stop taking the statin, your cholesterol levels will probably go back up.
There is one exception: If you make changes to your diet or lose weight, you may be able to lower and control your cholesterol without the statin. However, never stop taking a statin without first talking to your doctor.
“Statins: Are these cholesterol-lowering drugs right for you?” www.mayoclinic.org, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 9 November 2018.
“Statin side effects: Weigh the benefits and risks.” www.mayoclinic.org, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 April 2019.
“Controlling Cholesterol with Statins.” www.fda.gov, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 16 February, 2017