What are statins?
Statins are prescription medicines used to lower cholesterol. In Australia, statins are recommended for people who have, or are at high risk of, cardiovascular disease.
There are several different types of statins, including atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor), pravastatin, fluvastatin and simvastatin.
What are statins used for?
Having high levels of 'bad' cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) in the blood can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke. Statins are used to lower LDL cholesterol, and this helps lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Statins are considered the most effective group of cholesterol-lowering medicines available and work by blocking cholesterol production in the liver.
Statins are used in combination with other ways of lowering cholesterol, including eating a healthy diet, managing weight and exercising.
Are you at risk?
Who should take statins?
Australian guidelines, along with international guidelines, recommend that statins be used by:
- people who have had a heart attack or stroke, or who have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease
- people at high risk of a cardiovascular event, such as heart attack or stroke
Factors that can put you at high risk of cardiovascular disease include:
- older age
- an inactive lifestyle
- poor general health
- raised cholesterol levels
- high blood pressure
- overweight or obesity
- a family history of high cholesterol, heart attack or stroke
If you are at high risk, you will also likely be given medication to lower blood pressure as well as a statin, and advised to make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk.
What are the side effects of statins?
Most people who take statins do not notice any side effects. Side effects that can occur tend to be mild and temporary, and include muscle pain, abnormal liver enzyme levels and a slightly increased risk of diabetes. Serious side effects are rare.
How can the benefits and risks be managed?
There have been questions raised in the media over the benefits of statins. Peak health organisations have urged people who take statins to consult their doctors before stopping any prescribed medicines.
The benefits of statin treatment have been shown to outweigh the risk of possible side effects in most people at high risk of heart attack or stroke. If you are taking statins and have any concerns, talk to your doctor before making any changes.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recommends that you regularly review with your doctor or specialist any medicines you are taking for high blood pressure or high cholesterol to assess the ongoing benefits and risks. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.
For more information, check these frequently asked questions about statins.
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Last reviewed: January 2021