Statin is a class of drugs that has been shown to reduce levels of cholesterol, particularly LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood. A doctor may prescribe any one of several different drugs in this category, but all work in essentially the same fashion.
Statins work by slowing or stopping the production of cholesterol by the liver. They also help to convert low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol into high density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol. These drugs also affect the way cholesterol from food is absorbed by the body. Overall reduction of cholesterol can range from twenty to sixty percent with certain lifestyle changes.
There are seven different drugs in the statin class that doctors may prescribe. Atorvastatin is sold under the trade name Lipitor. Fluvastatin is known as Lescol. Lovastatin may be sold under the name Mevacor or Altocor. Pravastatin is marketed as Pravachol. Livalo is the brand name for pitavastatin. Zocor (simvastatin) and Crestor (rosuvastatin) are two of the more popular brands being prescribed currently.
Statins, like all medications, have the potential for side effects. Most of the time, these are mild and go away after a few days of taking the medication. These side effects include nausea, constipation, cramps, and gas or bloating. These drugs may also cause swelling of the liver and inhibit its function. Doctors generally order periodic blood tests that check liver function as long as a patient is taking a statin medication.
More serious side effects that can indicate a problem that contraindicates the use of statins include muscle soreness, vomiting, all over pain and/or weakness, severe stomach cramps, or discoloration of the urine (brown) that indicates muscle cells are breaking down and passing through urine. This could indicate a condition known as rhabdomyolysis, which can lead to kidney failure if left unchecked. Any of these serious side effects could potentially indicate a life threatening condition and should prompt the patient to stop taking the statin medication and contact his/her doctor.
Statins may also interact with other medications and certain foods in a manner that leads to serious side effects. Even certain over the counter dietary supplements can create potential problems. For this reason, it is important to tell one's doctor of these and all over the counter medications being taken. Statins will also interact with other cholesterol lowering medication types such as nicotinic acid or fibrates.
Warfarin, a common blood thinning medication sold under the trade name, Coumadin, can combine with statins to make the blood too thin. This can increase the likelihood of severe bleeding from even a minor cut and mimic the effects of hemophilia.
Grapefruit juice can make it more difficult for the some statins to be metabolized by the liver. Many doctors recommend avoiding this juice altogether while taking statin medications. Others feel that it is ok to drink grapefruit juice as long as it is not consumed at the same time the medication is taken.
The statin class of drugs has been shown to help reduce overall cholesterol, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and moderately increase HDL (good) cholesterol. The total effect is to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.