Navigation

Statins

Expert reviewer Madeeha Waheed, Oncology Pharmacist at Bupa, Clinical and Operational Improvement
Next review due November 2024

Statins are medicines that lower the amount of cholesterol in your blood.

An older couple looking at a computer

Uses of statins

Your doctor may recommend that you take statins if you:

  • have already got, or have had a form of cardiovascular disease (CVD)
  • are at an increased risk of developing CVD

 

CVD is the name for a number of conditions and diseases that affect your heart and blood vessels, which include coronary heart disease, angina, heart attacks and stroke. These are caused by the narrowing of your arteries (atherosclerosis) which is linked to having high cholesterol.

If you have a history of CVD

If you have the following health conditions, statins can help to prevent them from getting worse or from happening again.

  • A heart attack or a stroke
  • Peripheral arterial disease – a disease that causes your arteries to narrow.
  • A transient ischaemic attack (TIA, a ‘mini stroke’)
  • Angina

 

If you’re at risk of developing CVD

Statins can also help stop CVD from developing in people who don’t currently have cardiovascular problems, but are at risk of getting them.

Your doctor can assess your risk of CVD by asking you a series of questions and carrying out some health checks. If your doctor thinks there’s at least a one in 10 chance of you having a heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years, they may recommend statins.

Your doctor may also advise you to take statins to prevent CVD if you have:

  • type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • long-term kidney disease
  • a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH)

 

Usually, before your doctor suggests you take statins, they’ll encourage you to adapt your lifestyle to naturally lower your cholesterol level.

Statins aren’t suitable for everyone. Make sure your doctor knows about any other health conditions you have, or medicines you take. And if you're pregnant, breastfeeding or trying for a baby, tell your doctor so they can take this into account, as you won’t usually be able to take statins.

If your doctor recommends you take statins, it’s your decision whether or not you do. Ask your doctor to go through the pros and cons of statins and to discuss any alternatives to statins with you.

Making a decision

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced a patient decision aid for statins. Have a look at this, perhaps with family or friends, to help you make the best decision for you about whether you want to take statins or not.

In general, experts believe that the benefits of taking statins outweigh the harms. If you’ve already got CVD (for instance, you’ve had a heart attack), you’ll get the greatest benefits from statins.

How statins work

Statins work by lowering the amount of cholesterol in your blood.

Cholesterol is a type of fat made in your liver. It does a lot of important jobs that keep you healthy. However, if you have too much ‘bad’ cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) in your blood, it can cause atherosclerosis. This is when fatty deposits build up on the walls of your arteries.

Statins reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood by slowing down the production of cholesterol by your liver. By reducing your cholesterol, statins can help to reduce your risk of having cardiovascular disease (CVD) events, such as a heart attack or stroke.

Besides lowering cholesterol, statins work in other ways which have beneficial effects on preventing CVD and other conditions. For instance, it’s thought that statins may have anti-inflammatory effects and may help strengthen and repair the walls of your blood vessels.

Types of statins

There are five types of statin available in the UK:

  • atorvastatin (eg Lipitor)
  • simvastatin (eg Zocor)
  • pravastatin
  • fluvastatin (eg Lescol and Dorisin)
  • rosuvastatin (eg Crestor)

 

Your doctor will recommend the statin and the dose which is best for you in your particular circumstances. This will depend on your medical history, and how much your cholesterol needs to come down. Some statins lower blood cholesterol more than others. Most people are first prescribed atorvastatin.

You can buy certain low-dose statins from a pharmacy without a prescription from a doctor. Your pharmacist will talk to you about whether these are suitable for you. However, if you’re at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke, your doctor may prescribe a higher-dose statin for you.

Taking statins

Statins come as tablets or capsules which you take once a day, and at the same time every day. Atorvastatin and rosuvastatin can be taken at any time of the day, but the other statins should be taken in the evening. If you forget to take your tablet, wait till your next dose. If you take too much, contact your doctor or hospital for advice.

It’s important to carefully read the patient information which comes with your medicine. And if you have any questions about taking your medicine, you can ask your pharmacist.

Statins are a long-term treatment, which means you’ll need to continue taking them to get the benefits. You’ll need a check-up with your doctor after you’ve been taking a statin for three months, then again after a year. You may need blood tests, and your doctor may need to adjust the dose or type of statin you take.

 Worried about your cholesterol?

Get a picture of your current health and potential future health risks with one of our health assessments. Find out more about health assessments >

 Worried about your cholesterol?

Interactions of statins

Statins can react with some other medicines and products. Let your doctor or pharmacist know if you take any other medicines, and before you take any other medicines or supplements with a statin.

Grapefruit juice can interact with some statins and cause problems. You may need to limit how much you drink, or stop drinking it altogether.

Side-effects of statins

You may have heard a lot about the possible side-effects of statins. All medicines can cause some side-effects, but most people who take statins have no problems.

We list some of the side-effects of statins here, but please also read the information that comes with your medicine carefully.

Common side-effects

Common side-effects of statins include:

  • a blocked nose
  • a sore throat
  • nose bleeds
  • headache
  • nausea (feeling sick), diarrhoea, constipation, indigestion
  • mild pain in your muscles, joints, neck and back
  • a lack of energy
  • dizziness

 

Speak to your pharmacist if problems like these don’t settle. But do see your GP if you have any persistent or severe muscle pain.

Uncommon side-effects

Less common side-effects of statins include:

  • weight loss or weight gain
  • problem with sleep, such as nightmares or insomnia
  • blurred vision
  • changes in sensation – for example, you might have numbness in your fingers or changes in taste sensation
  • a rash on your skin
  • tired muscles

 

Give your new medicine a chance, but if you do feel that the statins are giving you side-effects, speak to your doctor. They may suggest stopping statins for a short while to see if the symptoms settle. Depending on what happens, your doctor may then reduce the dose of your current statin or switch to a different type of statin.

Serious side-effects and what to do

Statins can sometimes cause more serious problems but this is rare. If you get any of the reactions below, stop taking the statin and contact your doctor immediately.

  • An allergic reaction that causes your face, tongue and throat to swell and makes it hard to breathe.
  • Blistering and swelling to your skin; this may be to your mouth, eyes or genitals and you may also have a fever. Or you may have skin reactions that may cause your skin to look red.
  • Pain, weakness and tenderness in your muscles with a high temperature and feeling generally unwell; this might be a sign of muscle damage.

 

Medicines checklist

Our handy medicines checklist helps you see what to check for before taking a medicine.

Bupa's medicines checklist PDF opens in a new window (0.8MB)

Bupa medicines checklist

Frequently asked questions

  • Statins can cause side-effects but for most people, the benefits of statins outweigh the risks of taking them. Your doctor will monitor your health to see how you get on with statins. If you have any problems, let them know. They may change your medicine or the dose to help, for example.

    See our section: Side-effects of statins above for more information.

  • Yes, statins can make you put on weight, but not much. Your doctor will usually advise you to make some changes to your lifestyle, alongside taking statins. These include eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise. These should help you to keep your weight at a healthy level.

  • There’s no general advice to not drink alcohol if you take statins – you can usually drink in moderation. But if you have high cholesterol, it makes sense to stick to the recommended guidelines for the amount of alcohol you drink. And if you drink a lot of alcohol, then statins might not be suitable for you. Ask your doctor for more information about the risks of drinking alcohol and taking statins. 

  • Statins can lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of CVD but they aren’t suitable for everyone. If you have any health conditions, and take any medicines for them, let your doctor know. They’ll need to take this into account when deciding if statins will benefit you. If you're pregnant, breastfeeding or trying for a baby, statins can be harmful so you won’t usually be able to take them. 

    See our section: Uses of statins above for more information.



Did our information help you?

We’d love to hear what you think. Our short survey takes just a few minutes to complete and helps us to keep improving our health information.


About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. This is because we believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and wellbeing.

Our information has been awarded the PIF TICK for trustworthy health information. It also follows the principles of the The Information Standard.

The Patient Information Forum tick

Learn more about our editorial team and principles >

Related information

  •  

    Discover other helpful health information websites.

    • Lipid modification – CVD prevention. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised May 2021
    • Hypercholesterolaemia. BMJ Best Practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, last reviewed 13 September 2021
    • Statins. NICE British National Formulary. bnf.nice.org.uk, last updated 6 October 2021
    • Cardiovascular heart disease. British Heart Foundation. www.bhf.org.uk, page last reviewed October 2019
    • Statins. British Heart Foundation. www.bhf.org.uk, page last reviewed June 2021
    • Stroke and TIA. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised August 2020
    • Cardiovascular disease: risk assessment and reduction, including lipid modification. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). www.nice.org.uk, last updated 6 October 2021
    • Patient decision aid: user guide for healthcare professionals. Implementing the NICE guideline on lipid modification (CG181. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). www.nice.org.uk, published November 2014
    • Are statins the best choice for me? National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). www.nice.org.uk, accessed 14 October 2021
    • Visseren FLJ, Mach F, Smulders YM, et al. 2021 ESC guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice: developed by the Task Force for cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice with representatives of the European Society of Cardiology and 12 medical societies with the special contribution of the European Association of Preventive Cardiology (EAPC). Eur Heart J 2021; 42(34):3227–337. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehab484
    • Cholesterol: food fact sheet. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, updated April 2021
    • Lipid-regulating drugs including statins. Patient. patient.info, last edited 20 November 2019
    • Atorvastatin. NICE British National Formulary. bnf.nice.org.uk, last updated 6 October 2021
    • Simvastatin. NICE British National Formulary. bnf.nice.org.uk, last updated 6 October 2021
    • Pravastatin sodium. NICE British National Formulary. bnf.nice.org.uk, last updated 6 October 2021
    • Fluvastatin. NICE British National Formulary. bnf.nice.org.uk, last updated 6 October 2021
    • Rosuvastatin. NICE British National Formulary. bnf.nice.org.uk, last updated 6 October 2021
    • Statins. Heart UK. www.heartuk.org.uk, accessed 18 October 2021
    • Personal communication, Madeeha Waheed, Oncology Pharmacist at Bupa Clinical and Operational Improvement, 17 November 2021
    • Package leaflet: information for the user: Atorvastatin. emc. www.medicines.org.uk, last revised May 2020
  • Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Freelance Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, November 2021
    Expert reviewer, Madeeha Waheed, Oncology Pharmacist at Bupa, Clinical and Operational Improvement
    Next review due November 2024

ajax-loader