Drugs Q & A

What Happens If You Stop Taking Statins?

What are statins?

Statins refer to a group of medications used to treat high cholesterol. They work by decreasing the levels of cholesterol in your blood, especially low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol.

People with high LDL cholesterol are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. With this condition, cholesterol builds up in your arteries and can lead to angina, heart attack, or stroke. So, statins can be important in reducing these risks.

More than 200 million people around the world take statin drugs for their heart health. Shifting ideas about the risks and benefits of statins over the years, however, have left some new patients confused about whether these drugs are right—or safe—for them.

How statins work

Statins help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol, in the blood. They draw cholesterol out of plaque and stabilize plaque, Blaha says. Plaque is a waxy substance consisting mainly of cholesterol deposits that can build up within the walls of the arteries, interfering with blood flow to and from the heart and leading to heart attack and stroke.

Early on, plaque build-up can be controlled by healthy lifestyle choices, such as switching to a heart-healthy diet, exercising, and not smoking. If those efforts are unsuccessful over time, doctors will introduce treatment with statins to benefit the arteries and prevent further damage.

Types of statins

Statins are available under a variety of generic and brand names, including:

•             atorvastatin (Lipitor, Torvast)

•             fluvastatin (Lescol)

•             lovastatin (Mevacor, Altocor, Altoprev)

•             pitavastatin (Livalo, Pitava)

•             pravastatin (Pravachol, Selektine)

•             rosuvastatin (Crestor)

•             simvastatin (Lipex, Zocor)

Some combination medications also contain statins. Among them are:

•             amlodipine/atorvastatin (Caduet)

•             ezetimibe/simvastatin (Vytorin)

Who gets statins?

Being prescribed statins are no longer simply a result of having poor cholesterol numbers. Instead, doctors use a variety of ways to identify high-risk patients. These include examining all of your heart-health measures (including blood pressure, blood glucose, and body-mass index) as well as the results of tests that assess plaque build-up, such as a coronary calcium scan.

What happens if you stop taking statins?

Studies indicate that when you stop taking statins, you increase your risk for cardiovascular events such as heart attack which can be fatal especially in patients with coronary artery disease.

Even after you stop taking a statin, it can take several days before it is completely eliminated from your body depending on the dose. For example, it takes about 77 hours (3 days) for atorvastatin to be out of your system. The elimination half-life of atorvastatin is approximately 14 hours. This is the time it takes for your body to reduce plasma drug levels by half. It takes approximately 5.5 x elimination half-lives for a medicine to be out of one’s system.

How to stop taking statins safely

If you are experiencing side effects that make it difficult for you to take your prescribed statin on schedule, discuss with your doctor about stopping it.

Your doctor may recommend other possible alternatives based on your condition. Always remember that the better statin will be the one that works best for you. Other factors may play a role in choosing a statin, such as the cost, side effects, and other medications you may be taking.

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