Are you taking statins to lower your cholesterol levels? Statins are the most common type of medication used to treat high cholesterol. For most people with high cholesterol, the benefits of taking statins outweigh the risks. But statins can potentially cause some adverse side effects.

Learn what questions you should ask your doctor when statins are a part of your treatment plan.

What are the potential benefits of taking statins?

According to the American Heart Association, statins are the only class of cholesterol-lowering drugs that has been directly associated with reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. Statins can lower the amount oflow-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, in your blood. They can also raise your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol.

You might benefit from statins if you:

  • have a history of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack or stroke
  • are age 40–75 years, have an LDL cholesterol level of 70 to 190 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), and have diabetes or a high risk of heart attack or stroke
  • are age 21 or older and your LDL cholesterol level is 190 mg/dL or higher

If you fall into one of these categories and you’re not already taking statins, ask your doctor about the potential benefits of taking them.

What are the potential risks of taking statins?

Statins can potentially cause adverse side effects. The Mayo Clinic reports that one of the most common side effects of statins is muscle pain. Your muscles might feel sore, tired, or weak. In some cases, your symptoms might be severe enough to interfere with daily activities.

Statins can also cause your blood sugar levels to rise, an issue if you have diabetes or prediabetes. However, the benefits of taking statins often outweigh this risk.

In very rare cases, statins may cause:

  • memory loss or confusion
  • rhabdomyolysis, a life-threatening syndrome caused by muscle damage
  • liver damage

Before you begin taking statins, ask your doctor:

  • What are the potential side effects of taking statins?
  • Am I at heightened risk of developing certain side effects?
  • Should I undergo any medical tests to assess my risk of side effects?
  • What are the signs and symptoms of potential side effects?
  • What should I do if I develop signs or symptoms of side effects?

If you suspect that you’re experiencing adverse side effects from statins, make an appointment with your doctor. In some cases, they might recommend changes to your treatment plan.

Is it safe to take statins if I have prediabetes or diabetes?

Statins can potentially raise your blood sugar levels. If you have prediabetes, this increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, taking statins lowers your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke, which are common complications of diabetes. For this reason, the potential benefits of taking statins often outweigh the risks.

If you have prediabetes or diabetes, ask your doctor:

  • What are the potential benefits and risks of taking statins when I have prediabetes or diabetes?
  • What steps can I take to manage the risks of taking statins when I have prediabetes or diabetes?
  • What strategies can I use to keep my blood sugar levels under control?

To help manage your blood sugar levels, your doctor will likely encourage you to set up a customized monitoring schedule for your blood sugars, eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight.

Can statins interact with other drugs, supplements, or foods?

Some drugs can interact with statins, raising your risk of side effects. For example, these drugs include:

  • amiodarone (Nexterone)
  • gemfibrozil (Lopid)
  • protease inhibitors
  • certain antibiotic and antifungal agents
  • certain immunosuppressant drugs

Before you start taking statins:

  • share a full list of the drugs and supplements that you take with your doctor
  • ask your doctor if any of the drugs or supplements that you take can interact with statins
  • ask your doctor if you should avoid any drugs, supplements, or foods while taking statins

If you currently take a drug or supplement that can interfere with statins, your doctor might recommend changes to your treatment plan. Your doctor might also encourage you to limit your consumption of grapefruit, which can interfere with the enzymes that break statins down in your body.

How should I take my prescribed statins?

It’s important to take prescribed medications as directed. Ask your doctor:

  • What’s my prescribed dose of statins?
  • How often and when should I take each dose?
  • Should I take it with food or on any empty stomach?
  • Where and how should I store statins?

When should I consider changing my prescribed statins?

At some point, you might need to change the type or dose of statins that you take. It might be time to consider a change to your statin regimen if you:

  • develop side effects
  • start taking other medications that can interfere with statins
  • can no longer afford your prescribed type of statins or your insurance coverage changes

Depending on your specific circumstances, your doctor might advise you to:

  • adjust the brand, type, or dose of statins that you take
  • switch to another type of cholesterol-lowering medication
  • make other changes to your treatment plan

Don’t stop taking prescribed statins without speaking to your doctor first.

What other steps can I take to manage my cholesterol levels?

In addition to taking statins, your doctor might recommend other strategies to manage your cholesterol levels and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Consider asking your doctor:

  • Are there other medications that I should take?
  • Should I adjust my diet?
  • Should I change my exercise routine?
  • Should I cut back on the amount of alcohol that I consume?
  • Are there specialists or other resources that can help me develop healthier habits?

If you smoke or use other tobacco products, ask your doctor about strategies to quit. Smoking can contribute to high cholesterol and raise your risk of complications.

The takeaway

It’s important to understand the potential benefits and risks of any medications that you take. If your doctor has prescribed statins to help manage your cholesterol levels, talk to them about the impact the medication may have on your life.