Should I take a statin?
I am a 55-year-old man and don’t have heart disease, but my GP has prescribed me a statin. Should I take it?
Dr Mike Knapton says:
‘Should I take a statin?’ is a common question in my surgery, particularly when newspaper stories advocate benefits or report dire side effects.
Statins have been available for the past 30 years. They are taken once a day and can reduce risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), which can result in heart attack or stroke.
They work by inhibiting an enzyme in the liver called HMG-CoA reductase. This reduces the production of cholesterol in the liver and so reduces cholesterol levels in the blood.
Firstly, consider the benefits for you
Statins have been prescribed to millions of people and are estimated to save 7,000 lives each year in England. The decision to take a statin is an important one, as it will probably be recommended that you take the medication for a long time.
Firstly, consider the benefits for you. For people diagnosed with coronary heart disease or stroke there is proven benefit, so your GP or cardiologist will recommend you take a statin.
If, as in your case, you do not have CVD, you nevertheless may have been offered a statin following a health check by your GP or nurse.
If your 10-year risk of having a heart attack or stroke is greater than 10 per cent, you will be asked to consider taking a statin. Most doctors also recommend statins for people who have diabetes.
The risks, as with all medicines, include possible side effects. Serious side effects are rare and can be reversed if you stop taking the statin. One risk is muscle pain, ranging from mild pain to a severe muscular problem called rhabdomyolysis.
Like all medicines, statins can interact with other drugs. Speak to your GP or pharmacist if you’re not sure.
There are other ways to reduce cholesterol, including: losing weight; being physically active; and following a healthy diet, inspired by the traditional Mediterranean diet.
Weigh up the pros and cons of taking a statin and remember, a healthy diet, physical activity and not smoking are also important for your heart health.
Meet the expert
Dr Mike Knapton is Associate Medical Director at the BHF, overseeing the strategic role in helping patients and the public reduce their risk of heart disease. He remains a GP and works one day a week at a practice in Cambridge.