If you’ve had a cholesterol check recently, your doctor may have talked to you about adding a statin to your daily routine to help reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke. If that happens, or you’ve been taking statins for a while, you might be wondering if you’ll be able to stop taking statins in the future. Below, we’ll answer that question, explain what a statin is, and outline the possible side effects.
What Are Statins?
Statins are prescription medications that can lower your cholesterol levels. Statins stop the production of cholesterol in your body and help your body reabsorb the cholesterol that’s built plaques on your artery walls. This reduces your risk of blood vessel blockages and heart attacks.
Typically, statins are very successful at lowering your cholesterol, but they only work as long as you continue taking them. Most people who are taking a statin medication will likely be taking it for the rest of their lives.
The most common statins are:
- Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
- Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
- Simvastatin (Zocor)
Can You Stop Taking Statins?
If you’ve had a heart attack or stroke and your doctor prescribes a statin, it’s best to stick with the medication, even if you’re living a healthier lifestyle. On the other hand, if you haven’t had a heart attack or stroke and are taking statins to reduce your cholesterol, ending statin use can be an option. First, it’s recommended that you start with lifestyle improvements, like diet and exercise, then talk to your doctor.
In the end, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons. When you stop statin use, and your cholesterol starts getting high, your risk for a heart attack or stroke increases.
Reasons for Stopping Taking Statins
There are various reasons why people want to stop taking statins. Some of the most common reasons include:
- Side effects. According to the American College of Cardiology, around 85–90% of people who take statins don’t experience any side effects. As is the case with all drugs, a small minority of people who take statins experience mild to severe side effects, including muscle problems and a slightly increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Cost. Most of the statins available are covered by health insurance plans. But if you can’t afford to continue taking the statin that’s currently prescribed, talk to your doctor about coming up with an alternative treatment plan.
- Reduced need. If you’ve made lifestyle changes through diet and exercise that have lowered your cholesterol levels, you may not need to continue taking a statin. These changes can help reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, or blocked arteries while allowing you to take one less medication. But don’t stop taking your medication automatically because of these lifestyle changes. The only way to make sure your cholesterol levels are in a healthy range is to get a blood test from your doctor, who will let you know if it’s safe to stop taking your statin.
- Muscle problems. Muscle pains, tenderness, weakness in the muscles, and in rare cases, damage to the muscles affects some people who take statins. If you take a statin and have muscle pains that aren’t due to exercise or other causes, you should speak to your doctor. A doctor can test the creatine kinase (CK) levels in your blood. Your body releases CK when muscles are damaged or inflamed. If you have a high CK level, your doctor may recommend that you stop taking a statin.
- Type 2 diabetes. One potential side effect of statins is hypoglycemia or increased blood sugar. Some people are hesitant to take statins due to concerns about their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A review from 2019 reported a slightly higher risk of newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes among people who were taking statins. The risk is highest among those with prediabetes. Statins increase type 2 diabetes risk by 0.2% for each year the person takes statins. If you have normal baseline blood glucose levels, statins are highly unlikely to cause diabetes. The benefits of taking statins to prevent a cardiac event typically outweigh the risk of developing diabetes.
- Pregnancy. If you’re pregnant or planning for pregnancy, you should talk to your doctor about coming off statins. In 2019, the American Heart Association (AHA) published a review that included the safety of statins during pregnancy. None of the featured studies in the review identified a link between statin use and fetal development abnormalities. However, the studies had examined very few cases of statin use during pregnancy, so the authors were unable to rule out the risk. Therefore, the AHA caution against the use of statins during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
When to Talk to Your Doctor
It’s important to know that stopping statins cold turkey, or even gradually, can cause serious health problems and you should talk to your doctor before doing so. To understand more about your heart health, take a health risk assessment at Baptist Health.
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