For what conditions are statins used?
Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:
- Abnormally elevated cholesterol levels
- A family history of heart attacks (particularly at a young age)
- Increasing age
- High blood pressure
Most individuals are placed on statins because of high levels of cholesterol. Though reduction of cholesterol is important, heart disease is complex and, as discussed previously, other factors such as inflammation may play a role. Thirty-five percent of individuals who develop heart attacks do not have high blood cholesterol levels, yet most of them have atherosclerosis. This means that high levels of cholesterol are not always necessary for atherosclerotic plaques to form.
Because it is not clear which effect of statins is responsible for their benefits, the goal of treatment with statins should not be only the reduction of cholesterol to normal levels, but rather the prevention of the complications of atherosclerosis (angina, heart attacks, stroke, intermittent claudication, and death). This concept is important because it allows for individuals who have or are at risk for atherosclerosis, but do not have high levels of cholesterol to be considered for treatment with statins. Statins, like angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors), are an important class of drugs because they have been shown to reduce the incidence of heart attacks, strokes, and death.
Quick GuideLower Your Cholesterol, Save Your Heart
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