By Donna Christiano
Statins are prescription-only drugs used to lower blood cholesterol. They work by reducing low-density lipoprotein (aka LDL, the bad cholesterol that can build up on artery walls and block blood flow, leading to heart attacks and strokes). They also help lower blood fats and increase HDL (known as the “good” cholesterol).
Some of the most commonly prescribed statins are atorvastatin calcium (brand name Lipitor), simvastatin (Zocor), pravastatin sodium (Pravachol), lovastatin (only available as a generic), and rosuvastatin calcium (Crestor).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 55 percent of Americans (some 43 million people) who need cholesterol-lowering drugs are taking them.
High cholesterol doesn’t produce symptoms, so you may never know you have it unless your blood is tested—which should take place once every four to six years, says the CDC. Ideally, your total cholesterol reading should be less than 200 mg/dl and your LDL less than 100 mg/dl. But your doctor will take more than your cholesterol readings into consideration before prescribing a statin.
Currently, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following people talk to their doctors about using statins:
Adults with diagnosed heart disease or those who have had a stroke caused by clogged arteries.
People with LDL levels higher than 190 mg/dl.
Adults aged 40-75 who have diabetes.
Adults aged 40-75 who have LDL readings of 70-189 mg/dl and who have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke (as determined by a doctor).
Statins are highly effective drugs and 85% to 90% of people taking them have no side effects, reports the American College of Cardiology (ACC). When side effects do occur, the most common ones include:
Muscle weakness, pain, or cramping. This occurs in about 10% of people taking a statin, say the experts at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and can often be managed by changing the dose of the medication. In rare cases, there can be muscle damage, which is usually reversible.
New-onset diabetes, especially if you already have certain risk factors for the disease. However, the ACC points out that while one study showed 54 new cases of diabetes in people who used statins, 134 heart events and deaths were avoided.
Hemorrhagic stroke (a stroke that occurs when an artery in the brain leaks or bursts). The risk, however, is very small, affecting 5-10 people out of 10,000 treated with statins for five years, says the ACC.
Memory loss. Some people taking statins report that their memories and focus are not as sharp, but long-term memory problems have never been scientifically linked to statin use, say the University of Texas researchers.
Statins range in price depending on where you live, the pharmacy you use, and whether you’re prescribed a brand name or generic drug. Regardless, you can often save more on your prescription when using your Familywize free prescription discount card. Here, see the average cost of a 30-day supply of commonly prescribed statins and how much you might save when using your Familywize discount card at certain pharmacies.
For some people, lifestyle and dietary changes are all that’s needed to lower cholesterol levels. Others need the extra boost medication offers. Talk to your doctor about your cholesterol levels and whether using a statin is right for you. If it is, be sure to use the FamilyWize prescription lookup tool for the best price possible.
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