Statin Drugs: Not Just for High Cholesterol?

IMAGEHeart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, and cholesterol plays a major role in the development of heart disease. Cholesterol can be controlled with statin drugs, a common treatment for many people. You may think of cholesterol as just a number, but using statins has other benefits to your cardiovascular system. Research has shown that statins may reduce the incidence of heart attack, stroke, and death in people without cardiovascular disease. In fact, statins have a primary role in cardiovascular disease prevention. Like most medications, statins have a good and bad side. In most cases, the benefits outweigh the risks. Here is some information about statins that will make you think beyond your cholesterol number.

How Do Statins Work?

Statins have been used primarily to treat high cholesterol. High levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL, the bad cholesterol) combined with low levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL, the good cholesterol) can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis. Atherolsclerosis is a hardening of the arteries due to a build up of plaque on the inner walls. It is a condition that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Statin drugs, like atorvastatin, pravastatin, and simvastatin, work by inhibiting a liver enzyme that is involved in the production of cholesterol. They are most effective at lowering levels of LDL cholesterol and may also contribute to increasing levels of HDL cholesterol.Statins have become a popular choice to treat cholesterol problems because they are effective and generally well-tolerated.

What Are the Health Benefits?

Researchers have investigated the potential health benefits of taking statins. There is evidence that statins may reduce the risk of:
  • Heart attack and death in people with heart disease with or without high cholesterol
  • Cardiovascular events and death in people who are at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease
  • Heart attack, stroke, and death in people with elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a sign of inflammation in the body
  • Cardiovascular events in women who have cardiovascular disease
  • Surgery to improve blood flow to the heart and unstable angina in women
Statins may also help lower blood pressure.

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