We often hear about cholesterol and how it’s an important factor in our overall health, but what exactly is it?
Our bodies use cholesterol to build cells and vitamins. Cholesterol is produced by the liver, but we get additional cholesterol from sources like meat, poultry, and dairy products. These products also contain fats, which make our liver produce even more cholesterol. This can cause high cholesterol in some people and lead to poor health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.
There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL is the “good” cholesterol; LDL is considered “bad.” Statins are a class of medication that work to slow down the liver’s production of cholesterol and help remove LDL cholesterol already circulating in the blood. The goals of statin therapy are to lower LDL cholesterol and consequently lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Statins are one of the most common treatments prescribed to treat high cholesterol. Studies have shown that statins are one of the most effective treatments for this condition, lowering LDL levels by 20-50%. They have been directly associated with lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Most people do well with taking statins, but like many medications, they can have some side effects, which could include headaches, muscle and joint pain, and nausea. Although it is rare, some statin medications may also cause more serious side effects, including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, muscle cell damage, and liver damage. The benefits of taking statin medications may outweigh the potential risks of these side effects, so you should discuss options with your doctor.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and death in America. According to updated guidelines by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, statins are recommended for adults ages 40-75 who have at least one cardiovascular risk factor and an estimated 10-year cardiovascular disease risk of 10% or greater. Statins may be selectively offered to adults in the same age range who also have at least one cardiovascular risk factor, but an estimated 10-year cardiovascular disease risk of 7.5% to less than 10%. The guidelines also state that the likelihood of benefit is smaller in this group than it is in individuals with a 10-year risk of 10% or greater.
Patients with cardiovascular disease might be prescribed medium- to high-intensity statin therapy when appropriate. Always talk to your health care provider about the treatment options that may be right for your unique health needs.