Statins are drugs that help to lower the level of cholesterol in blood and are used for treatment of hypercholesterolaemia which is one of the main risk factors for coronary artery disease. Statins however reduce overall cardiovascular risk independently of the baseline level of choleserol and are therefore often prescribed e.g. in patients with diabetes - which greatly increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease - even if they have normal level of cholesterol. Statins work by inhibiting an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase which reduces the level of total cholesterol and LDL (= ‘bad’) cholesterol. The most common statins are simvastatin, atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and pravastatin.
Most patients taking statins don’t experience any problems. Side effects of statins include muscle pain, upset stomach, headache and sleeping problems. Side effects can be also generated by interactions between statins and other medications or food such as grapefruit juice. Despite occasional negative publicity, the likelihood of a serious adverse effect related to statin is very low, about one person out of ten thousand. This small risk should be considered in context of proven significant prognostic benefits of statins.