Nearly one-third of Tennesseans have high cholesterol. This condition is second to only hypertension for its negative impact on our health. For many individuals, the treatment plan for high cholesterol includes a prescription for a statin.
WellTuned talked with Dr. Jodie Kennedy, a clinical pharmacist with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee to learn more about why it’s important to take the statins prescribed for you.
What are statins?
In short, statins are cholesterol-lowering medications. More specifically, they’re a class of medications that reduce the amount of cholesterol produced by your liver. Statins help your liver remove cholesterol that’s already in your blood. And they can also reduce inflammation in your artery walls.
Statins are a very commonly prescribed medication. More than a quarter of Americans over 40 use them. Experts often recommend that people with a history of heart attack or stroke take statins. And people with diabetes or very high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels—the so-called “bad cholesterol”—are at elevated risk for heart disease or stroke, so they can also benefit from taking statins.
Why you need to take your statins
Dr. Kennedy: When your healthcare provider prescribes a statin for you, the ultimate goal is to reduce your risk of experiencing some type of cardiac event. This could be a heart attack or stroke. When you don’t take a medication as prescribed, it’s called non-compliance or non-adherence. And unfortunately, it can take a major toll on your health.
Here are the three biggest reasons that you should take your statins, if they’re prescribed:
1. Untreated high cholesterol can be very risky.
Your body does need some cholesterol to help build new cells and hormones, but you can definitely have too much. If you do have too much LDL cholesterol in your blood, it can lead to a build-up of plaque in your arteries. This causes your arteries to narrow and restrict blood flow, known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can cause chest pain, blood clots, heart attack, or stroke. A statin can counteract that build-up of plaque and reduce your risk.
2. Statins lower the risk for people with diabetes
People with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease. This is because high blood sugar levels can eventually damage blood vessels and the nerves controlling your heart. People with diabetes are also more likely to have other conditions that raise their risk for heart disease. This includes high blood pressure and higher levels of LDL in their blood. Again, a statin can lower their risk of experiencing a serious cardiac event.
3. Statins reduce the likelihood of a second event
If you’ve already had a heart attack or stroke, your statin can help reduce the chances that you’ll experience another one.
If you’re still tempted to stop taking your statin …
Dr. Kennedy: If you’re ever tempted to stop taking your statin because of something you heard from a friend or read on the Internet, don’t. If you stop taking it, you run the risk of your cholesterol levels going up. You may not feel like it’s doing anything for you, but it’s a workhorse of a drug, and it’s helping to prevent cardiac events.
Instead of stopping on your own, contact your healthcare provider and discuss your concerns first. You can also discuss your concerns with your pharmacist, who can help identify any potential drug interactions that may increase your chance of experiencing a side effect.
Serious side effects are generally rare. Some people who take statins do experience some side effects that affect their muscles. In addition to muscle and joint aches, headaches and nausea are commonly reported side effects.
But even people who experience some side effects don’t necessarily have to stop taking their statin. They can work with their healthcare provider to try a lower dose or switch to a different statin.
“There are a variety of statins available to patients who need them,” says Dr. Kennedy. “For the vast majority of people, side effects are non-existent or minimal, making them a powerful tool to reduce the chance of a life-threatening event.”
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.