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What are statins?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Statins limit the amount of cholesterol produced in the body. They do this by blocking the action of an enzyme, HMG CoA reductase. Statins are the most effective drugs for lowering LDL cholesterol. They can also lower triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol.

Many statins are available in the US. These include atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Altoprev), pitavastatin (Livalo), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor), and simvastatin (Zocor). Some other products combine a statin in a single pill with a different cholesterol drug, such as niacin (Advicor, Simcor) or ezetimibe (Liptruzet, Vytorin). 

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Statins are the most frequently prescribed drugs in the U.S. Millions of Americans take statins, which are used to reduce cholesterol. Chances are you take one yourself or know someone who does. Perhaps you have seen the ads on TV for blockbuster statins like Lipitor, Crestor and Zocor. Statins work by blocking a liver enzyme that is needed for cholesterol formation. Extensive research indicates that statins can decrease the rate of heart attacks in people at high risk and may also reduce inflammation in blood vessels.

But like all other drugs, statins can have severe side effects, which get worse with increasing dosage. The most common are muscle damage, liver damage and fatigue. About 30,000 Americans have experienced life-threatening statin side effects.

HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins) are medications that inhibit the rate at which cholesterol is formed in the body. This class of drug also can help draw cholesterol to the liver for excretion. The most common side effects with these drugs are stomach upset, nausea/vomiting, headache, and dizziness. Liver function also should be periodically tested in people taking this medication.

Examples:

  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Fluvastatin (Lescol)
  • Lovastatin (Mevacor)
  • Pravastatin (Pravachol)
  • Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
  • Simvastatin (Zocor)

Statins are a type of drug taken by millions of Americans to lower cholesterol. This class of drugs works by blocking an enzyme known as HMG-CoA (3-hydroxy-3-methyglutaryl COA) reductase, which the body needs to make cholesterol. Statins help to treat and prevent heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol. In the United States, statins available by prescription include atorvastatin (Lipitor™), lovastatin (Mevacor™), pravastatin (Pravachol™), and simvastatin (Zocor™). In the United States, statins are available by prescription only.
This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

Statins are medications that help lower cholesterol, specifically the type of cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol. Statins block an enzyme in the liver that the body needs to produce cholesterol. Lowering LDL cholesterol is especially important because when cholesterol builds up in the blood vessels, it forms deposits, called plaques, that narrow the path through which blood flows. This is called atherosclerosis. If an artery is narrowed or blocked, the diminished blood flow starves the organs of oxygen, leading to coronary artery disease and heart attack, carotid artery disease and stroke, renal artery disease and kidney failure, and/or peripheral artery disease (PAD) and limb loss.

Dr. Kent A. Holtorf, MD
Endocrinologist

Statin drugs are used to lower cholesterol levels and are the most prescribed (and marketed) medications in the United States. They have been highly touted as an effective means to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.