Statins are among the most commonly prescribed medications used to lower cholesterol. For people who have heart disease, they are responsible for saving thousands of lives. Some of the most popular statins include Crestor, Lipitor, and Zocor. While statins have some great benefits for people who are considered high risk patients, they also have some serious side-effects that are often overlooked. Therefore, before deciding to take a statin for the long-term you must discuss with your doctor the potential side-effects compared to the potential benefit.
First, let’s consider how statins work. Statins block a substance the liver needs to produce cholesterol (the waxy substance found in fat in in blood) by helping the liver to get rid of cholesterol from the blood. While the body needs cholesterol to generate healthy cells, having high cholesterol is bad because it increases the risk of developing heart disease. How? High cholesterol causes a buildup of fat deposits in the blood vessels. Over time, these fat deposits delay or even prevent the flow of blood in the arteries. If the heart cannot get the amount of oxygen-rich blood as it needs, the risk of having a heart attack significantly increases. At the same time, it can clog the arteries which causes a decrease in blood flow to the brain. This can lead to a stroke.
One side effect of statins may be memory loss and confusion. These potential side effects are known to only last as long as you are on the medication. However, the neurological side-effects have not been well studied.
Due to the serious risks that are associate with having high cholesterol, statins have been a popular medication. However, there are certain risks and side effects that are sometimes overlooked. If you are currently taking or are considering taking a statin to lower cholesterol, it is important to know the potential side effects.
- Neurological side effects: According to the FDA, one side effect of statins may be memory loss and confusion. These potential side effects are known to only last as long as you are on the medication. However, the neurological side-effects of statins have not been well studied and need additional research to confirm these claims. But if you experience any neurological side effects while on statins, make sure to speak with your doctor.
- Liver damage: Statins may sometimes cause liver damage or stress. The signs of possible liver damage may include unusual fatigue or weakness, loss of appetite, pain in your upper abdomen, dark-colored urine, or yellowing of your skin or eyes. A good way to test whether statins are interfering with your liver is by checking if there is an excess of liver enzymes in the blood. Your doctor will most likely do a liver enzyme test either after you begin taking a statin or if you are experiencing any severe symptoms. If your liver enzymes are severely elevated, your doctor may advise you stop taking the medication.
- Muscle pain and damage: This is the most common side effect of statins. The muscle pain is usually associated with soreness, tiredness or weakness. The amount of pain range from mild discomfort to severe pain. To test this, your doctor may do a CPK isoenzymes test to determine whether there is muscle injury or muscle stress.
- Increased blood sugar or type 2 diabetes: The FDA has warned that taking statins may be associated with an increased risk of elevated blood sugar levels, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. While the risk is small, it is still important to be aware of.
Some other side effects which have been known to be associated with using statins include nausea, constipation, diarrhea, a rash, or skin flushing.
While developing high cholesterol can be inherited, it is also often brought on as a result of making unhealthy lifestyle choices. You are more likely to develop high cholesterol if you have one or multiple of the following risk factors: smoking, obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, diabetes, or family history of heart disease.
The best ways to prevent or reduce your risk for high cholesterol is by making healthier lifestyle choices. This includes eating a healthy diet consisting of low-fat, low-salt, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It is also important to get regular exercise.
If you speak with your doctor and find that the risk of taking statins outweigh the benefits, there are a number of natural alternatives such as taking garlic, blond psyllium, artichoke, and barley and oat bran. However, switching from statins to an alternative form of treatment should only be advised by your doctor. Make sure to discuss the risks and benefits of statins with your doctor to decide whether they are right for you. If you have to take statins to maintain your heart health, then at least know what the side effects are and make sure to contact your doctor if you experience any of them.
Dr. David Samadi is the chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel.