Statins are prescription medications that can help lower your cholesterol levels. They may do this by either stopping the production of cholesterol, or helping reabsorb existing cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance. It’s found in every cell of the body.

Your body is capable of making all the cholesterol it needs to function properly. Cholesterol levels may be supplemented by the foods you eat, however.

The two types of cholesterol that exist are high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). HDL is referred to as the “good” cholesterol. It helps remove excess cholesterol from your body.

LDL, or the “bad” cholesterol, creates buildup in your arteries. This can lead to blocked arteries, and these blocked arteries can cause a heart attack or stroke.

To reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke, your doctor may recommend you take a statin medication.

These medications are designed specifically for people with high cholesterol or people who are at risk for cardiovascular disease.

Statins work in two ways to reduce your cholesterol numbers:

  1. Statins stop the production of cholesterol.
    • First, statins block the enzyme that creates cholesterol. Reduced production lowers the total amount of cholesterol available in your bloodstream.
  2. Statins help reabsorb existing cholesterol.
    • Your body needs cholesterol to perform certain tasks. These tasks include helping you digest food, make hormones, and absorb vitamin D. If statins lower your cholesterol level, your body can’t get the cholesterol it needs from your circulating blood. Instead, your body needs to find other sources of cholesterol. It does this by reabsorbing cholesterol that has built up as plaques containing LDL in your arteries.

More than 31 percent of Americans have LDL levels that are too high. People with high LDL levels have twice the risk of heart disease compared to people with healthier cholesterol levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Almost 28 percent of Americans ages 40 to 59 use a cholesterol-lowering medication. Slightly more than 23 percent of adults report using statin medications alone. Overall treatment for high cholesterol has increased in the past 15 years.

As treatment numbers have increased, disease numbers have fallen. Still, less than half of adults with high LDL are receiving treatment, according to the CDC.

If you’re taking statins or plan to take statins in the near future, there are several do’s and don’ts you should know.

Comply with your doctor’s orders

Your cholesterol levels are closely related to your overall health. That’s why it’s so important to comply with your doctor’s prescription and keep your cholesterol numbers in a heart-healthy range.

Don’t skip doses

When it comes to drugs, skipping doses could cost you your life. A 2007 study found that skipping your medication doses more than doubles your risk for a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event.

These conditions are entirely avoidable if you take your medication as your doctor prescribes.

Get regular testing

If you’re on statins, your doctor needs to monitor your blood and overall health for signs of complications related to the medication. Make and keep regular appointments for blood tests and checkups.

Often, blood tests are the first and best way for your doctor to spot a potential problem before it becomes dangerous.

Don’t stop taking statins without talking to your doctor first

All drugs have side effects. Statins are no exception. Some people who take statins may notice side effects, including muscle pain and weakness. These side effects can be very uncomfortable, but you shouldn’t stop taking your medicine because of them until you speak with your doctor.

Each statin is different, so your doctor may have you switch to a new medication to see if it reduces your side effects.

Live a healthy lifestyle

Medications can certainly help, but the ultimate way to improve your health is to eat better, move more, and take care of your body. It’s true that people with a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol may still battle LDL levels that are dangerous.

But an overall healthy lifestyle can help prevent many conditions and diseases, including ones that increase your risk for heart disease.

If your LDL levels are higher than they should be, talk to your doctor about the best way to return your numbers to a safe and healthy range. Your doctor may first suggest a change in diet and exercise. Sometimes these lifestyle changes are enough to reverse your cholesterol numbers.

Statins are an option, but they may not be the first step your doctor wants to try. The most important thing is that you take the initiative to meet with your doctor and find a solution that helps you live a healthy, happy life.