High cholesterol—specifically a high level of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the body—is among the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke. There are many contributing factors to high cholesterol, including diet, exercise habits, tobacco and alcohol use, age, and family history. While you may be able to lower your cholesterol with lifestyle changes alone, these measures are not always enough. If you’ve struggled to lower your cholesterol and you have a high risk of heart disease due to factors like diabetes, family history of cardiovascular disease, or advanced age, your doctor may prescribe a statin to reduce your risk.
Statins are common prescription drugs that effectively lower cholesterol and drive down the risk of heart disease. Because these drugs are so common, they are also talked about a lot in the medical community and the media. To help you get the facts straight, here are some important things to know about statins.
1. Statins are a long-term solution for high cholesterol.
Once your doctor prescribes a statin, you can expect to take it for life—or at least for a long period of time. If you lose a significant amount of weight or have other substantial changes to your heart disease risk, you may be able to go off the medication. However, most patients will see cholesterol bounce right back to pre-medication levels within two months of stopping statin use.
2. Side effects from statins are rare but can be serious.
One of the things you might hear most about statins is the risk of side effects, particularly liver damage and muscle weakness called rhabdomyolysis. Both side effects, especially muscle aches and weakness, are very rare. When liver abnormalities occur, they typically show up within the first three months of taking the medication. During this time, you’ll need to take regular blood tests to ensure normal liver function.
3. Statins may be most effective taken at night.
Some, but not all, statins work best when they’re taken at night, when cholesterol production is typically highest. However, some statins are long-acting and better taken in the morning. Talk to your doctor and pharmacist for recommendations on when to take your medication. In either case, you don’t have to worry about taking your medication on an empty or full stomach. It will work just fine either way.
4. Most statins don’t mix well with grapefruit juice.
Again, not all statins are the same, but most don’t mix well with grapefruit juice due to an enzyme that effects how these drugs metabolize. If your statin medication warns against consuming grapefruit, take that warning seriously.
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