You may need to take statins if you’ve had a heart attack or stroke, in order to reduce your risk of another cardiac event. You usually have to continue taking statins for life because if you stop taking them, your cholesterol will return to a high level within a few weeks.
It is thought that more than seven million Britons take these drugs.
Indeed, the NHS notes that a review of scientific studies into the effectiveness of statins found around one in every 50 people who take the medicine for five years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke, as a result.
The NHS recommends maintaining cholesterol levels below 5mmol/L.
In the UK, however, three out of five adults have a total cholesterol of 5mmol/L or above, and the average cholesterol level is about 5.7mmol/L, which can be a risk factor in heart disease.
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The NHS says that there are five types of statin available on prescription in the UK. They include atorvastatin, fluvastatin pravastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin.
Drugs Watch health site says that most common side effects of Lipitor, a type of atorvastatin, are minor “but the medication can cause serious side effects”.
Some side effects may show up in your sleep. The site says you may experience difficulty falling and staying asleep.
It adds: “Though the reactions occurred less often, people who took the drug during clinical trials also reported nose bleeds, blurred vision and ringing in the ears. Still others reported fever, liver problems, abnormal blood and urine test results, and malaise, which is a general feeling of discomfort or uneasiness.”
The NHS says that uncommon side effects of statins include skin problems, such as acne or an itchy red rash.
It suggests: “Speak to your doctor if you have muscle pain, tenderness or weakness that cannot be explained – for example, pain that is not caused by physical work.”
The health body adds that statins can occasionally cause muscle inflammation and damage.
Rare side effects include loss of sensation or tingling in the nerve endings of the hands and feet, and tendon problems.
The Yellow Card Scheme allows you to report suspected side effects from any type of medicine you’re taking.
It’s run by a medicines safety watchdog called the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
The purpose of the scheme is to provide an early warning that the safety of a medicine or a medical device may require further investigation.
Side effects reported on Yellow Cards are evaluated, together with additional sources of information such as clinical trial data.
Most statins are taken at night, as this is when most of your cholesterol is produced, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
The BHF says: “It’s important to take your medication regularly as prescribed. Most statins are taken at night, as this is when most of your cholesterol is produced. Check with your doctor or pharmacist when you should be taking your statin.”
The charity also notes that a research study suggested that in very rare cases statins may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
“However statins are among the safest and the most studied medications available today,” it suggests.