Heart disease is the number one cause of death among adults in the United States. One of the leading risk factors for heart disease is high cholesterol, which impacts more than 102 million adults in America. Lifestyle changes such as eating healthy and being active are a great start to protecting your heart. For some people with additional risk factors for heart disease, adding a statin to lifestyle changes is recommended to decrease your risk.
What is a statin?
Statins are a class of medications which are used to lower cholesterol in the blood. Statins lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by slowing down the liver’s production of cholesterol, and increasing the liver’s ability to remove LDL cholesterol already in the blood. Too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to buildup on the walls of your arteries called plaque which increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Who needs them?
Your healthcare provider may prescribe a statin if:
- You have already had a heart attack or stroke, or you have peripheral arterial disease
- Your LDL cholesterol level is 190 mg/dL or higher
- You are 40–75 years old with diabetes
- You are 40-75 years old with a high risk of developing heart disease or stroke
What are the risks?
Statins are typically well tolerated. One side effect patients may be aware of is muscle pain. While this is a side effect, the actual incidence of muscle pain varies by statin, and generally occurs in less than 10 percent of patients on a statin. There are measures you and your health care provider can take to treat or prevent muscle pain such as changing a dose or trying a different statin.
The lifestyle factor
Along with statin therapy, implementing healthy lifestyle changes can also help manage cholesterol levels. What kind of lifestyle changes are best? Experts recommend the average adult get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day, but it doesn’t have to be a grueling run or weight lifting session. Taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood or spending the day deep cleaning the house are easy ways to fit physical activity into your day.
A healthy diet is also important. Foods high in fiber and healthy fatty acids, such as avocado, oats, nuts, spinach and fatty fish, are great for lowering your cholesterol.
If you don’t know your cholesterol levels, ask your doctor to check them during your next visit and come up with a treatment plan if they’re high. Learn more about how you can lower your cholesterol and maintain a healthy heart with these additional resources:
- Your Top Three Cholesterol Questions—Answered!
- On Top of Your Heart Health? Ask These Three Questions to Find out
- 4 Ways Member Health is at the “Heart” of Blue Cross
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