Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes

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Statins provide a lifeline to people at risk of heart disease. They do this by helping to lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol is often referred to as “bad cholesterol” because it can clog up your arteries. Statins are therefore a welcome intervention.

However, to ensure statins produce an optimal outcome, you have to get the timing right.

There are different types of statins and the advice differs depending on the type of statin you’re on.

For example, the NHS provides specific advice about the time of day to take atorvastatin – one of the main types of statin prescribed in the UK.

The NHS says: “Take atorvastatin once a day. You can choose to take it at any time, as long as you stick to the same time every day.”

Why? “This prevents your blood levels from becoming too high or too low.”

The health body continues: “Sometimes doctors may recommend taking it in the evening. This is because your body makes most cholesterol at night.

“If you’re not sure when to take your medicine, ask a pharmacist or your doctor for advice.”

According to cholesterol charity Heart UK, rosuvastatin – another type of statin – can also be taken at any time of the day.

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The charity also notes that “your doctor or nurse might suggest you take your statins at night, before you go to bed”.

“That’s because the liver is more active in making cholesterol at night. This is except for atorvastatin and rosuvastatin which you can take at any time.”

Statins recommended to be taken at night include:

  • Fluvastatin
  • Lovastatin
  • Pravastatin
  • Simvastatin.

According to Harvard Health, the body breaks down the above statins “fairly quickly”.

“So taking them in the evening ensures that you have enough medicine on board when you need it the most,” explains the health body.

Statins – side effects to expect

Many people who take statins experience no or very few side effects.

“Others experience some troublesome, but usually minor, side effects, such as diarrhoea, a headache or feeling sick,” explains the NHS.

According to the health body, your doctor should discuss the risks and benefits of taking statins if they’re offered to you.

The risks of any side effects also have to be balanced against the benefits of preventing serious problems.

A review of scientific studies into the effectiveness of statins found around one in every 50 people who take the medicine for five years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke, as a result.

Lifestyle changes can also bring down high cholesterol levels.

These include:

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Stopping smoking.

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