If you live in the United States and you are over 45 years old, there is a one in three chance that you meet the medical criteria for taking a statin to control your cholesterol. But the reality is that 50 percent of patients who are told they need statins stop taking them after one year, and only 30 percent of patients who are supposed to be on statins are still taking them after two years.
Why should you take your statins?
The VA studied 347,104 vets at high risk for cardiovascular disease whose doctors prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins for them. These patients had already survived a heart attack or a stroke, or they had diabetes and high blood pressure, or they had been identified as having high cholesterol with one other risk factor, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. They were not healthy people.
During just two years of followup, over 85,000 vets in this group died of all causes. The doctors examined their medical records to see if there was a relationship between failing to take prescription drugs and death.
Here is what they found:
- Men who didn’t take their cholesterol drugs were more likely to die than women who did not take their cholesterol drugs.
- African-Americans who did not take their cholesterol medications were more likely to die than people of other races who did not take their cholesterol medications.
- Skipping blood pressure pills, while not a good idea, did not have a measurable relationship with the risk of death.
- Skipping cholesterol pills increased the risk of death by 23 percent for patients who were on low-dose statins, and by 50 percent for patients who were on high-dose statins.
Statin drugs lower your “bad” cholesterol, your LDL, as well as your triglycerides. They raise your “good” cholesterol, your HDL. But the purpose of taking a cholesterol drug isn’t just to lower your cholesterol.
Statin drugs reduce inflammation. They help your body keep a “cap” on unstable hardened cholesterol deposits that could burst and block an artery. They reduce the processes that cause your arteries to constrict and interfere with the flow of oxygen-rich blood. They have beneficial effects all over your body.
That doesn’t mean that there are never any problems with statins.
If you have liver disease, or if your kidney function is not what it needs to be, if you are of Asian descent, you have a muscle-wasting disease, or you are over 80, your doctor may have to modify the dosage of your statins. It is possible that you may not be able to take statins at all. Some people experience muscle pain due to a condition called rhabdomyolysis or have memory problems when they take potent statins such as Crestor.
Cardiologist Dr. Ian Weisberg notes an increase in the number of patients taking fibrates such as clofibrate (Atromid-S), fenofibrate (Antara, Fenoglide, Lipofen, TriCor, Triglide, Trilipix), and gemfibrozil (Lopid) because of side effects of statins.
But don’t quit taking statins on your own. Work with your doctor to find the right dose of the right medication to protect your cardiovascular system from atherosclerosis and inflammation.