What are Statins? What are their Uses and Side Effects?
Statins are a class of medicines used frequently to lower the blood cholesterol levels. The drug is able to block the action of a chemical in the Liver, essential for producing cholesterol.
Cholesterol, the soft and waxy stuff, is needed for normal cell and body functions. However, very high level of the same may lead to Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition in which cholesterol containing plaques are building up in the arteries and block blood flow. By using the drug Statins, blood cholesterol level can be brought to a lower level, thereby lower the risk of chest pain, heart attack and stroke.
Several types of Statins are available. Atorvastatin, Levastatin, Mevastatin, Pitavastatin, Pravastatin, Rosuvastatin and Simvastatin are the main types of Statins available. Among them, Atorvastatin and Rosuvastatin are the strongest while Fluvastatin is the mild one. The medicine is sold under several different brand names. Zocor is known as the genetic Simvastatin. Mevastatin is a naturally occurring Statin found in red yeast rice.
Statins contain an enzyme called HMG CoA reductace which controls cholesterol production in the liver. These medicines actually act to replace the HMG CoA that exists in the liver. Many people take the Statin treatment to lower their cholesterol level to less than 25-30%. Even after the target level is reached Statin treatment usually continues to sustain Atherosclerosis prevention.
Cholesterol comes from two sources – the body and food. Liver and other cells in the body make about 75% of blood cholesterol. The other 25% comes from the food we eat. There are two types of cholesterol, LDL and HDL. LDL is the bad cholesterol. LDL is produced naturally by the body, but many people inherit genes that cause them to make too much. Eating saturated fat, trans fats and dietary cholesterol also increases how much one has. To reduce the cholesterol level one has to do physical exercises. Exercise does not mean structured workouts. One can reap the same rewards with the simple approach to fitness, that is to say that don’t sit when one can stand, and don’t stand when one can walk, etc.
It is a common belief that a person with high cholesterol level is expected to have a heart attack. Therefore, a person is given Statin, when the blood cholesterol level is high. But, the truth is that it is also possible to have a heart attack without high blood cholesterol levels. Nearly all heart attacks begin when atherosclerosis plaques are build up. Again, it is also possible that plaques from Atherosclerosis can still form even when blood cholesterol is low. As such, Statins may be used to treat people who have or are at a higher risk of atherosclerosis even if they do not have high cholesterol levels.
Side Effects of Statins
Most of the people who take statins have either minor or no side effects. However, there are many who suffer from head aches, abdominal pain, diarrhea, feeling sick and a rash. There are rare cases of severe form of muscle inflammation. Also, there are two major side effects which occur rarely, namely, liver failure and skeletal muscle damage. This muscle damage is a very severe form of Myopathy called Rhabdomyolysis. This usually starts as a muscle pain and can worsen where the patient loses muscle cells, kidney failure or even dies. This happens when Statins are taken in combination with other drugs that raise the Statin levels in the blood. People with liver disease should not take Statins. The drug should be discontinued if liver disease develops while taking Statins.
Pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers should not take the drug. During the Statin treatment grapefruit and its juice should not be taken to avoid dangerous effect of its interaction.