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Statins are a group of drugs used primarily in lowering cholesterol. All the drugs that belong to this group have names that end with -statin. They are generally capable of lowering cholesterol levels by 20 to 60 percent.
Cholesterol plays an important role in the everyday functioning of the body. Unfortunately, it can also have a negative effect, contributing to the development of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a serious condition marked by the formation of cholesterol-containing plaques inside the arteries. These plaques can block the arteries, cutting off blood flow, or rupturing and causing a clot that increases blockage. The results of such blockages are very serious and can include angina, claudication, heart attack, and stroke.
When used to lower cholesterol, statins work in the liver to block a substance required in the production of cholesterol. This substance is called HMG-CoA reductase. Blocking HMG-CoA reductase leads to the depletion of cholesterol in liver cells and works to stimulate the removal of cholesterol from the blood as it circulates. Statins may even help the body reabsorb cholesterol that has already accumulated in plaques on artery walls. Furthermore, statins make formed plaques less likely to rupture and create harmful clots.
Statins are considered more capable of lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) than other types of medications. LDL is harmful cholesterol. Additionally, statins are useful for increasing good cholesterol, called high-density lipoprotein (HDL). They also serve to decrease triglycerides in the body.
Available in tablet or capsule form, statins are usually taken with dinner or at bedtime. Results are typically evident after a period of four to six weeks of use. Medications in this group are usually easy to tolerate and cause few, if any, side effects.
In addition to lowering cholesterol and decreasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, statins have been shown to offer other health benefits. For example, they've been shown to reduce bone fracture risk in some people. They may even be helpful in treating osteoporosis.
Despite the health benefits statins provide, there are some individuals who should avoid them. Individuals who are allergic to statins, have active liver disease, or drink excessive amounts of alcohol are not good candidates for taking this type of drug. Women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or breastfeeding should consult their doctors about the risks of taking statins. Those with histories of myopathy, as well as anyone dealing with kidney failure caused by rhabdomyolysis, should also avoid this group of medications.