Statins: They aren’t just for treating high cholesterol

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If you have high cholesterol, chances are you’ve been prescribed a statin, such as Lipitor® (atorvastatin) or Crestor® (rosuvastatin). This common class of medication works by decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol, raising HDL (good) cholesterol, and blocking an enzyme that the liver needs to create cholesterol.

However, statins aren’t just prescribed for treating high cholesterol. There is growing evidence that statins can be beneficial for certain people even if their cholesterol levels are in the normal range.

“A common misconception we see is that patients feel these medications aren’t necessary since their cholesterol levels are in range, when in fact, the medications are many times prescribed for various reasons,” explained Mike Martinelli, a registered pharmacist with Express Scripts® Pharmacy.

Here are some other instances where a doctor may prescribe statins.

Statins for heart disease prevention or treatment

Statins are the most effective class of medication for preventing and treating heart disease, independent of a person’s cholesterol.1

Heart disease refers to several different types of conditions affecting the blood vessels and arteries. Two common types of heart disease are coronary artery disease (CAD) and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD). These are conditions where fatty, cholesterol-laden plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through the vascular system into vital organs like the heart. In some cases, these deposits can break off and form a clot, which can cause heart attack or stroke.

Statins stabilize plaque on blood vessel walls, reduce the amount of fatty deposits in the arteries and stop more from building up, and make it less likely that existing deposits break off and form a clot.

For these reasons, doctors recommend statins for patients with CAD or ASCVD, as well as for prevention of cardiovascular disease in people between the ages of 40 and 75 who are at increased risk for developing the condition in the future, even if they have healthy cholesterol levels now.

Statins for diabetes treatment

“Diabetes increases the risk for heart disease, so the guidelines recommend that even patients with normal cholesterol levels start statins to reduce their future risk of cardiovascular disease,” advised Martinelli.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability among people with type 2 diabetes.2 When you have diabetes, the body makes more cholesterol but is less able to absorb it, causing more plaque to build up in the arteries. This raises the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

“Statins do have the potential to raise blood sugar levels, and this is sometimes a barrier for folks,” said Martinelli. “But the risk of future cardiovascular disease in patients with diabetes typically outweighs the risk of blood sugar elevation.”

It’s wise to keep a close eye on your blood sugar and A1C after starting statins for the first time and to share those numbers with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure your blood sugar remains at a healthy level.

Statins for treating high blood pressure

High blood pressure is a condition where your blood pushes consistently too hard against your blood vessel walls. This causes the heart to work harder and less efficiently and, over time, can damage the tissues inside the arteries and cause tears in the artery walls. Plaque can form along the tears in the artery walls, which, in turn, makes the arteries narrower.

Statins help treat high blood pressure in two ways. First, statins slow the body’s production of cholesterol, allowing less plaque to accumulate in the arteries. Second, statins help relax blood vessels.

In a study, researchers found that statins lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.3 The results extended to patients with prehypertension and patients with high blood pressure who were not taking blood pressure lowering medication.

Could statins be right for you?

Statins have a wide range of benefits that go beyond simply treating high cholesterol. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or a family history of any of these chronic health conditions, reach out to your doctor to find out if statins may be right for you.

Whether you’re currently taking statins or curious about statins and their benefits, if you’re an Express Scripts® Pharmacy patient, our pharmacists are available to you by phone 24/7. They receive training in specific areas of health, conditions, and therapies, including diabetes and cardiovascular conditions.

Posted date: November 18, 2022


1 JAMA Cardiology: Statins and the Prevention of Heart Disease (April 2017): jamanetwork.com.
2 American Heart Association: Most U.S. adults with diabetes aren’t managing the risks for heart disease (January 10, 2022): heart.org/en/news/2022/01/10/most-us-adults-with-diabetes-arent-managing-the-risks-for-heart-disease.
3 Archives of Internal Medicine: Reduction in Blood Pressure with Statins: Results from the UCSD Statin Study, a Randomized Trial (April 14, 2008): jamanetwork.com.

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