Statins are a group of medications that are prescribed to manage cholesterol levels and help prevent serious health events, such as heart attacks and strokes.
- Lower “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood.
- Help to promote “good” HDL cholesterol.
- Minimise the risk of serious health events occurring.
If you have any concerns about your cholesterol levels and the risks they pose, you can speak with one of our GPhC-registered clinicians via our online video consultation service. They are available for appointments between 9.30am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday.
What are statins?
Statins are a commonly prescribed preventative treatment that are given to patients with high levels of LDL cholesterol (low density lipoprotein). High levels of this substance can lead to the arteries becoming blocked, which heightens the risk of cardiovascular disease and the possibility of serious health events occurring, including strokes and heart attacks. Statins lower the body’s levels of these bad fats, promoting higher levels of healthy fats and greatly reducing the risks described above.
Strokes are a medical emergency; if you see someone exhibiting symptoms, call 999 immediately.
What is cardiovascular disease?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a broad term that describes a group of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. It’s usually linked to fatty substances blocking the arteries. CVD presents a significant risk to the body’s major organs, including the heart, kidneys, lungs and brain.
There are several different types of cardiovascular disease, the main four of which include coronary heart disease, strokes, aortic disease and peripheral arterial disease.
What is coronary heart disease?
Coronary heart disease is a condition that occurs when oxygen, which is carried in the blood to the heart and the body’s organs, becomes blocked by a build-up of fatty substances. This puts a particular strain on the heart and leads to conditions that include angina (a tight pain that occurs in the chest), heart attacks (which occur when blood flow is completely blocked) and heart failure (where the heart can no longer pump blood around the body efficiently).
What are strokes?
Strokes are serious health events that occur when blood flow to the brain is cut off. This can lead to a brain haemorrhage and death. A transient ischaemic attack (TIA) is a form of stroke that can occur when coronary heart disease is present. It’s a less serious event than a normal stroke, as blood flow to the brain is only partially cut off, although it can still lead to extremely serious outcomes.
What symptoms can strokes cause?
Symptoms of a stroke include not being able to control one side of the face. This may consist of not being able to smile, and the eyes and mouth drooping. You may also not be able to lift one or both of your arms, and your speech can become slurred and incoherent. Strokes are a medical emergency; if you see someone exhibiting symptoms, call 999 immediately.
What is aortic disease?
Aortic disease refers to a number of conditions that affect the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body, which provides blood to the body from the heart. Aortic disease rarely presents with any symptoms, but an aortic aneurysm can be life threatening and will need to be managed with medications, including preventative treatments such as statins.
What is peripheral arterial disease?
Peripheral arterial disease occurs when the arteries that provide blood to different parts of the limbs (usually the legs) become blocked. There are a number of symptoms that may be warning signs of the condition, including cramping in the legs that gets better when you are at rest, recurring open sores on the legs and feet, loss of hair and weakness in the legs that is sometimes accompanied by numbness.
If you would like to speak to a registered clinician about statins or any related conditions, you can book an appointment between 9.30am and 4.30pm, five days a week, using our online video consultation service. Our clinicians can also provide referrals to specialists for treatment, and fit notes, where suitable.
What side effects can statins cause?
All medications are known to provide some risk of side effects, some of which can be severe, so it is essential that you understand what these are before starting treatment. Your doctor can discuss any potential side effects with you, and you can refer to the patient information leaflet that comes with your medication for specific details.
The following information refers to the statin simvastatin, and may not be relevant to your specific treatment.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should discontinue use and seek immediate medical attention: muscle pain, tenderness, weakness, cramps, hypersensitivity reactions that include swelling of the face, tongue and throat and difficulty breathing, rash with weakness of limbs and neck muscles, pain or inflammation of the joints, inflammation of the blood vessels, bruising, skin eruptions, swelling, hives, sensitivity to the sun, fever, flushing, shortness of breath, feeling unwell, lupus-like disease symptoms, yellowing of the skin and eyes, itching, dark-coloured urine, pale-coloured stools, tiredness or weakness, loss of appetite, liver failure and inflammation of the pancreas often with severe abdominal pain, anaemia, numbness of the arms and legs, headache, tingling sensation, dizziness, digestive disturbances, hair loss, weakness, trouble sleeping, poor memory and confusion.
The following symptoms have also been reported, but there is not enough data to determine their frequency: erectile dysfunction, depression and inflammation of the lungs.
Can statins cause interactions with other medications?
Statins, like all medications, can interact with others, so it is vital that you tell your doctor about any other treatments you are currently taking, including supplements and herbal remedies.
In the case of simvastatin, you should avoid using it alongside any of the the following treatments: Ketoconazole, itraconazole, posaconazole, voriconazole, indinavir, nelfinavir, ritonavir, saquinavir, boceprevir, telaprevir, erythromycin, clarithromycin, telithromycin, nefazodone, gemofibrozil, ciclosporin, danazol and fusidic acid.
Your doctor may also determine that simvastatin is an unsuitable treatment for you if you are taking any of the following: Fibrates, gemfibrozil, bezafibrate, ciclosporin, itraconazole, ketoconazole, fluconazole, amiodarone, verapamil, diltiazem, amlodipine, colchicine, phenprocoumon, acenocoumarol, warfarin, fenofibrate, niacin and rifampicin.
Warnings and precautions when taking statins
You should tell your doctor about any illnesses you have or are prone to so that they will be able to make an informed decision regarding your treatment. This includes: allergies, liver disease, if you are due to have an operation, diabetes, hypertension, severe lung disease, are over 65 years old, kidney problems, thyroid problems, hereditary muscle disorder, you are a female and a history of muscle problems.
Is it safe to take statins if you are pregnant or breastfeeding?
Because the safety of these medications for use during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding has not been established, you should tell your prescribing clinician if you are pregnant, are planning on becoming pregnant, suspect you might be pregnant or are breastfeeding, as an alternative treatment will need to be prescribed.
What types of statins are available?
In the UK, there are five separate types of statins available on prescription. These are simvastatin (Zocor), pravastatin (Lipostat), rosuvastatin (Crestor), atorvastatin (Lipitor) and fluvastatin (Lescol). All these medications are well tolerated and are thought to be very safe to use over the long term for the vast majority of patients.
Can statins cause any allergic reactions?
If you are aware of any allergies you have, you should tell your doctor before starting treatment. Some statins contain lactose, which some people may have an intolerance of.
Can I consume alcohol whilst taking statins?
You should discuss your alcohol intake with your prescribing clinician prior to use. Significant quantities of alcohol may be unsuitable to consume alongside statins.
Can statins affect my ability to drive?
It’s unlikely that statins will affect your ability to drive, but in rare cases, you may experience visual issues or dizziness. In these circumstances, avoid operating any form of heavy machinery and contact your doctor.
Can I buy statins over the counter?
No. Statins are a prescription-only treatment in the UK.
Can I buy statins online?
You can discuss statins or any related conditions with one of our GMC-registered clinicians using our online video consultation service. They are available for appointments between 9.30am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday. Our clinicians can also provide fit notes and referrals to specialists for treatment, where appropriate.