Statins and cholesterol: side effects and advantages

Statins and cholesterol: side effects and advantages
Statins and cholesterol: side effects and advantages
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There are several medications capable of lowering cholesterol, one of the fundamental factors for the health of the heart and the individual as a whole, among these medications the main ones are statins.

Statins (HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors) are a category of medications to reduce high blood cholesterol, as they are capable of inhibiting the production of cholesterol in the liver.

Statins block the liver enzyme responsible for the production of this substance which, when present in excessive amounts in the blood, increases the risk of suffering from heart problems.

Credits: Scharvik/istock

Understand the effects of statins on cholesterol

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found throughout the body and is essential for the normal functioning of cells; serves the body to:

  • produce hormones;
  • build cell walls;
  • and other important processes.

The body is capable of producing all the cholesterol it needs, but it is also found in some foods.

When it becomes excessive, it can build up on artery walls in the form of plaque.

Over time, plaques can cause narrowing or hardening of the arteries, i.e., cause atherosclerosis.

Eventually, excess cholesterol can clog arteries and prevent normal blood flow to the heart.

High cholesterol symptoms

High cholesterol does not cause symptoms and therefore can be defined, like hypertension, as a silent killer.

However, there is a blood test to measure different types of cholesterol.

Statin treatment

The main goal of cholesterol control therapy is to reduce bad cholesterol to a level that does not create new or worsen any existing heart problems. If a patient without heart problems has hypercholesterolemia, the guidelines recommend, as therapy of choice, a program that includes:

  • diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol;
  • physical activity;
  • weight control (which involves losing weight if necessary).

If diet and exercise alone are not enough to normalize cholesterol levels and/or when important cardiovascular risk factors are present, doctors may decide to prescribe specific medications, including statins.

The molecules belonging to this class of medications delay the formation of plaque in the arteries, because they interfere with the production of cholesterol.

Statins are relatively safe for most patients, but response to the medications varies from person to person.

Some patients may experience fewer side effects with one type of medication and more side effects with others.

Some molecules have known interactions with other medications.

Statins (HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors) act on the liver:

  • preventing the creation of cholesterol;
  • reducing bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol;
  • can help the body reabsorb cholesterol that has accumulated in the form of plaques on artery walls and therefore prevent new blockages in blood vessels and heart attacks;
  • They are not recommended for pregnant women or for patients suffering from liver diseases, even chronic ones.

What other benefits do statins have?

Researchers believe that statins may have other benefits beyond simply lowering cholesterol.

One path that appears promising is related to its anti-inflammatory properties, which help stabilize blood vessel walls.

Therefore, statins would be beneficial for the entire body, from the brain to the heart to the blood vessels and various organs.

In the heart, stabilizing blood vessel walls is helpful because it reduces the chances of plaque rupture and therefore the risk of heart attack.

Furthermore, statins serve to relax blood vessels and therefore reduce blood pressure.

As well, they can reduce the risk of blood clot formation.

Side effects

Statins are well tolerated by most patients, however, like all medications, they have side effects, some of which may disappear once the body adapts to the medication.

Common and less serious side effects

  • Muscle and joint pain (most common)
  • gastrointestinal problems (nausea, diarrhea, constipation, bloating)
  • nosebleeds and nasal congestion
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • feeling of uneasiness

Potentially serious side effects

  • Liver damage – in some cases, statins can increase the production of liver enzymes.
  • Muscle problems – statins can cause muscle pain and discomfort (statin myopathy). The higher the dose, the greater the risk of suffering muscle problems.
  • Hyperglycemia and increased risk of developing diabetes.


The article is in Portuguese

Tags: Statins cholesterol side effects advantages

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