It is well known that there is a positive correlation between the levels of cholesterol in the blood and the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The higher the cholesterol count, the higher the chances of the arteries in the body, especially those supplying the heart and the brain, getting clogged up with plaques, leading to narrowing of the lumen and subsequently death of the organ supplied by the vessels due to poor blood flow.
This problem of raised cholesterol in the blood, most of which is contributed to by synthesis of the substance in the liver (the balance being taken in through the diet as high cholesterol foods such as egg yolk, fatty meats and butter), is solved very well by the usage of potent chemical substances known collectively as statins. Statins function by inhibiting the enzyme HMG CoA reductase in the liver which is involved in the biosynthesis of cholesterol. As the production of cholesterol by the liver is a continual ongoing process, this results in the statin being recommended for continual long term use to lower high cholesterol.
Examples of statins in common use are: Mevacor (lovastatin), Pravachol (pravastatin), Zocor (simvastatin), Lipitor or Lipator (atorvastatin), and Crestor (rosuvastatin). Currently the most popular statin in use in the world is Lipator.
All is not well in the world of treatment of high cholesterol levels with statins, however.
While statins are extremely effective in the treatment of cholesterol levels, the problem arises of statin side effects. These statin side effects are common to statins as a group, but can be more for certain members of the statin family, and less for others. The incidence of statin side effects also varies depending on the individual taking the statin, and whether the statin is taken alone or in conjunction with other drugs. Statin side effects, while minimal, can be sometimes potentially disturbing and can be serious enough to warrant discontinuation of the drug.
Following is the list of the most common statin side effects.
Muscle pain. This is said to be the most common side effect. This comes on as soreness, weakness or tiredness of your muscles. This may be so mild as to be a simple discomfort when walking or can be so severe that it causes pain when climbing stairs. Very rarely, the condition of rhabdomyolysis may occur, where there is severe muscle damage, leading to liver and kidney failure and death.
Liver Damage. Sometimes statins cause a rise in liver enzymes. If the increase is mild, it is said to be safe to continue the drug. Moderate rises usually can be reversed by discontinuing the drug. Because the effect is different in different people and in different statins, the doctor may recommend a different statin. Continued use of the drug in the face of a marked rise of liver enzymes may lead to liver damage. Liver damage may be totally asymptomatic. It is thus advisable for one to have liver function tests done about 6 week after starting a course of statins, and monitor these every 3 to 6 months or so.
Gastrointestinal Symptoms. The usual symptoms are nausea, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea or constipation. These statin side effects, although very common as a whole for all users of all medicines, are said to be rather rare with statin therapy. It is suggested that statins be taking in the evening or nights to reduce the incidence of these side effects.
In view of the potential of getting the above side effects, should one then just avoid them altogether? The answer is no. Currently statins are by far the best and most effective treatment for the lowering of the blood cholesterol to normal cholesterol levels, far more than any other measure. If one weighs the pros and cons of statin treatment, it will be obvious that the risks of getting heart attacks and strokes in an untreated high cholesterol patient far outweigh the risks of side effects of statin therapy. It is thus suggested that statins be
recommended strongly still for the treatment of high cholesterol, but with the proviso that there be regular monitoring of blood for liver function tests as well as levels of creatine kinase, a rise of which indicates muscle damage. We find Lipator or Lipitor to have much less side effects compared to other statins.