The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for a lot of health-related issues. Among other responsibilities, the FDA issues warnings about medication side effects and problems. Recently, they released a new set of guidelines designed to help doctors and patients better manage the use of statins for treating high cholesterol. The following sections present information that can help you better understand these guidelines and how they affect you.

Cholesterol and Americans

Approximately one in three American adults have high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This type of cholesterol is commonly called “bad” cholesterol. As LDL levels in the blood rise, plaque settles on artery walls. Soon, the arteries become narrowed. Eventually, the arteries and vessels may become blocked entirely.

When left undiagnosed or untreated, high LDL numbers can become deadly. High LDL levels can cause coronary heart disease and high blood pressure. These conditions increase your risk for a major vascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke. For decades, doctors have tried to reduce cholesterol levels by prescribing medications and lifestyle changes.

Statin Drugs and Cholesterol

Diet and exercise can go a long way toward reducing cholesterol levels, but sometimes these measures are not enough. The most common high cholesterol treatment is a statin. Statin medications are designed to reduce LDL levels in the blood. For most people, statins safely lower LDL levels. 

Once prescribed and started, most high cholesterol patients will need to take statins for the rest of their lives. Some people may be able to stop if they successfully lower their cholesterol levels through diet, weight loss, exercise, or some other means.

These medicines are not for everyone. In light of the possible side effects caused by these medicines, the FDA released new guidelines that can help patients and their physicians effectively monitor potential side effects and issues caused by statin medicines.

FDA’s Newest Guidelines

Cholesterol-lowering statin medications have a long history of successfully treating and lowering cholesterol levels. The longer people take statins, the more science learns about the possible side effects. That’s why the FDA recently released new guidelines for statin use. Decades of research and study revealed a few important issues. 

The FDA’s advice to patients and healthcare professionals include:

  • a warning that statins may cause cognitive impairment. These issues include memory loss, confusion, and forgetfulness.
  • a notice that routine liver enzyme monitoring is no longer necessary. Liver enzyme tests were used for decades as a way to catch potential liver damage. However, the FDA has found that these checks are not effective. The new recommendation: doctors should perform a liver enzyme test before statin use begins. Then patients should be checked again if symptoms of liver damage appear.
  • a warning that people taking statins may experience increased blood sugar levels and may develop type 2 diabetes. People taking statins should have their blood-sugar levels checked regularly.
  • a warning that patients taking lovastatin, a type of statin medication, are at risk for muscle damage. Patients taking this type of medicine should be aware of this possible drug interaction.

Lifestyle Changes That Can Improve Your Cholesterol

In the fall of 2013, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) updated their recommendations about statin medications. In addition to expanding the possible pool of people who may benefit from the medicine, they also updated lifestyle guidelines for patients with high cholesterol.

Exercise

Individuals diagnosed with high cholesterol should try to get 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times a week. Ideal activities include brisk walking, bicycling, swimming, or even dancing.

Diet

Good eating habits can also help reduce your risk of complications, may help lower your cholesterol, and can help prevent other conditions. The AHA and ACC recommend people eat at least four to five servings of both fruits and vegetables each day. People with high cholesterol should also aim to eat more whole grains, nuts, and low-fat dairy products. They should limit the amount of meat, poultry, and fish they eat to no more than six ounces per day.

People with high cholesterol should reduce their sodium intake. The average American eats 3,600 milligrams of sodium in a day. The AHA recommends that all Americans should aim to get that number down to no more than 1,500 milligrams per day.