Statins are a type of cholesterol lowering drug that work by inhibiting an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase. As a result, statins lower the amount of cholesterol that the body produces, resulting in an overall drop in the cholesterol levels in the blood. It also causes a decrease in the LDL protein, which is another compound which, when present in high levels, can damage cardiovascular health. Statins are commonly used because they are considered to be safe for long-term treatment of high cholesterol.
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Indications For Using Statins
Statin drugs are generally prescribed for the treatment of high cholesterol levels. Statins have been found to be highly effective for patients who are at risk of cardiovascular disease and can lower the risk of a patient having a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event. Statins are generally prescribed for patients who have not had success with a cholesterol-lowering diet.
Statins begin to have a noticeable effect after one week. For four to six weeks after statin treatment has started, cholesterol levels will gradually decrease until the drug has had its maximum effect. From that point, the effects of statin treatment will remain stable unless there is some other change, such as new medications or a drastic change in diet. As a result, statins can generally be used for long-term management of high cholesterol.
Mild Side Effects
The most common side effect from taking statins is muscle cramping. Some patients also experience problems with their gastrointestinal system, such as nausea or diarrhoea, but these symptoms also occur at a similar rate for patients taking a placebo. There are also some instances of statin use causing mild fluctuations in liver enzyme levels (as measured by blood tests) but again, these are comparable to placebo and can usually be eliminated by lowering the dosage.
Serious Side Effects
The most serious side effect than can occur with the use of statins is inflammation and subsequent death of skeletal muscle. This can ultimately lead to a condition called rhabdomyolysis, which a serious condition in which skeletal muscle is broken down. Not only is this painful, but it can also cause the kidneys to fail as they try to process all of the breakdown products of the muscle. As a result, patients may need to have their kidney function checked regularly, and if there is any evidence of muscle breakdown the drugs must be immediately discontinued.
Statins can be combined with other cholesterol and lipid lowering medications, such as fibrates, but this increases the risk of rhabdomyolysis and should be avoided as a long-term treatment strategy. Consumption of grapefruit juice or grapefruit can also cause an increased risk of dangerous side effects, as a compound found within the juice inhibits metabolism, of statins, which can lead to dangerously high levels of the drug. Otherwise, there are few drug to drug interactions, which makes statin medications generally safe for long-term use.
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