What are Cholesterol-Lowering Statins?

Last Editorial Review: 1/11/2018

Ask the experts

What are the cholesterol-lowering statins?

Doctor's response

There are currently five statin drugs on the market in the United States:

The major effect of the statins is to lower LDL-cholesterol levels, and they lower LDL-cholesterol more than other types of drugs.

Statins inhibit an enzyme, HMG- CoA reductase, that controls the rate of cholesterol production in the body. These drugs lower cholesterol by slowing down the production of cholesterol and by increasing the liver's ability to remove the LDL-cholesterol already in the blood. Statins were used to lower cholesterol levels in both the 4S and CARE studies. The large reductions in total and LDL- cholesterol produced by these drugs resulted in large reductions in heart attacks and heart disease deaths. Thanks to their track record in these studies and their ability to lower LDL-cholesterol, statins have become the drugs most often prescribed when a person with heart disease needs a cholesterol- lowering medicine.

Studies using statins have reported 20 to 60 percent lower LDL- cholesterol levels in patients on these drugs. Statins also produce a modest increase in HDL- cholesterol and reduce elevated triglyceride levels.

The statins are usually given in a single dose at the evening meal or at bedtime. It is important that these medications be given in the evening to take advantage of the fact that the body makes more cholesterol at night than during the day.

You should begin to see results from the statins after several weeks, with a maximum effect in 4 to 6 weeks. After about 6 to 8 weeks, your doctor can do the first check of your LDL-cholesterol while on the medication. A second measurement of your LDL-cholesterol level will have to be averaged with the first for your doctor to decide whether your dose of medicine should be changed to help you meet your goal.

The statins are well tolerated by most patients, and serious side effects are rare. A few patients will experience an upset stomach, gas, constipation, and abdominal pain or cramps. These symptoms usually are mild to moderate in severity and generally go away as your body adjusts. Rarely a patient will develop abnormalities in blood tests of the liver. Also rare is the side effect of muscle problems. The symptoms are muscle soreness, pain, and weakness. If this happens, or you have brown urine, contact your doctor right away to get blood tests for possible muscle problems.