Statins are medications that lower cholesterol and other fats (lipids) in your body. By lowering your cholesterol and lipid levels, you may reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
How does it work?
Statins help block an enzyme in the liver that helps your body make cholesterol. By blocking this enzyme, your body makes less cholesterol. The slower cholesterol production signals your liver to absorb more "bad" cholesterol (LDL) from your bloodstream. Lower LDL levels can lead to lower triglyceride levels and higher HDL "good" cholesterol levels.
How should I take this medication?
Most statins can be taken with or without food, but because not all of them are the same, always talk to your doctor or pharmacist to get information about your particular statin. Usually, statins work best if they are taken in the evening or at bedtime because your body makes more cholesterol at night. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how and when to take your medication.
What are some common side effects?
Some common side effects of statins include constipation, heartburn, gas, upset stomach, stomach cramps, diarrhea and headache. Many of these side effects are lessened if you take the medication with food. As your body gets used to the medication, the side effects may go away altogether. One rare, but potentially serious side effect, is muscle pain or damage, which usually starts as pain in the larger muscles of the legs or shoulders. If this happens, you should see your physician immediately. Statins may cause other rare side effects. If you experience other side effects, talk to your doctor.
What should I avoid while taking this medicine?
Talk to your doctor to find out if it is safe for you to drink alcohol while you are taking statins.
What if I am taking other medicines?
Some statin medications can interact with grapefruit juice. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if this applies to your particular brand of statin. Some medications can increase or decrease the effect of statins. Always tell your doctor about any other medication including prescription, non-prescription, over-the-counter or natural health products (vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic medicines, traditional medicines such as traditional Chinese medicines, probiotics and other products such as amino acids and essential fatty acids). Some medications that can interact with cholesterol lowering medications in general include:
- Warfarin (an anticoagulant). If you are taking warfarin and a cholesterol-lowering medicine, your dosages may need to be adjusted.
- Erythromycin, clarithromycin (antibiotics).
- Some oral or intravenous antifungal medications, such as fluconazole, ketoconazole and itraconazonle.
- Verapamil (calcium channel blocker).
Statins are prescribed along with a lower-fat diet, particularly lower in saturated and trans fats, because both medication and diet are important for controlling cholesterol levels. Your doctor may periodically order a blood test to check the level of cholesterol and other fats in your body. Learn more about cholesterol.
Eating a healthy diet that is lower in fat, especially saturated and trans fats, being smoke free, limiting alcohol use, being physically active and reducing stress are also important in lowering the risk of heart disease. Talk to your healthcare practitioner about how you can achieve these lifestyle changes.
For more information
Health Canada provides health and medical information to help Canadians maintain and improve their health. Learn more about Safe Use of Medicines, Safety and Effectiveness of Generic Drugs and Buying Drugs over the Internet.
Drug Product Database provides information about drugs approved for use in Canada.
MedEffect Canada provides safety alerts, public health advisories, warnings and recalls.
Your ministry of health also provides useful health resources in your province or territory. For example, Ontario has a MedsCheck program providing free pharmacist consultations on safety use of drugs. British Columbia has a Senior Healthcare webpage providing information about important health programs.
Last modified: July 2011
Last reviewed: July 2011