Ask the Health Expert: When are statins effective?

You ask. OHSU experts answer.

Q: When are statins effective? And what are the side effects?

A: Your question is a timely one. Statins are a class of drugs used to lower LDL cholesterol levels, and they’re one of the safest classes of medications that we have.

Recently (November of 2013), the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology published the new national guidelines on the treatment of blood cholesterol to reduce the risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) in adults. They identified four groups at risk for ASCVD events – heart attack, stroke, and death – who warrant treatment with a statin:

  • Diagnosis of ASCVD (primarily coronary artery disease or stroke)
  • LDL cholesterol > 190 mg/dl
  • Diabetes with LDL >70 mg/dl
  • Estimated 10 year risk of having a heart attack or stroke >7.5%

These groups have demonstrated major benefits from statins to the extent that the benefits outweigh the risks. But it is important to understand the side effects. For a minority of patients, these may include muscle aches and pains and a very small increased risk of diabetes in individuals already at risk. Again, in individuals who belong to one of the four benefit groups, the number of heart attacks and strokes that are prevented is much greater than the incidence of side effects with statins.

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Michael Shapiro, D.O., is the medical director of the Heart Disease Prevention program at the OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute and is a board certified cardiologist with sub-specialty board certifications in Lipidology (cholesterol) and Cardiovascular Computed Tomography (CT).

4 responses to “Ask the Health Expert: When are statins effective?

  1. Is it true that statins have a negative impact on aerobic exercise and on strength training? If so, is there any benefit in exercising if you’re on statin medications, or does it become moot?

    1. That is a great question. It is in fact true. However, this is a phenomenon that is generally only noticeable in elite athletes performing very high levels of exercise. In most individuals, this effects is not noticeable. Exercise is extremely important even if you take a statin. It provides myriad benefits well above and beyond its positive effects on cholesterol. – Dr. Michael Shapiro

  2. Are there any non-cardiovascular protective effects of statins? Alzheimers, cancers, etc?

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