High cholesterol is a major health issue in the United States, however, the average age of people who use statins significantly lowered over the years. Recently, there were two reports released by the American Heart Association (AMA). The reports give new guidelines for doctors to follow. With the new guidelines, more people than ever would be taking cholesterol reducing medications. There are questions about whether statin consumption can be hazardous to one’s health or do the benefits outweigh the risks.
Since scientists announced that there was good and bad cholesterol there has been debate over many things. Just what indications should a doctor look for and what is the best solution to the problem? What is the definition of good and bad cholesterol? LDL is the bad form of cholesterol because it contributes the clogged arteries and increased levels of plaque which can cause a clot to form. Whereas, HDL is considered the good cholesterol because it actually helps remove LDL from the arteries.
The first thing a patient and the doctor typically discuss is exercise and diet. A sensible plan can be the answer to lowering bad HDL. Medication is the stop-gap solution when exercise and diet have not worked to get the patient to an acceptable HDL level.
Now, the AMA is suggesting physicians give statins to patients who would not normally receive a prescription. In the new guidelines a person who smokes is a candidate when age, weight and blood pressure factors are considered; not just the HDL/LDL ratio. There would be set criteria on a chart; where a person falls on the graph determines whether or not a prescription is written.
Under these guidelines, the amount of statins prescribed would significantly increase. The pharmaceutical companies will be the winners with the new rules. An estimated 56 million adults in the U.S. would be on cholesterol-lowering statins, that is nearly half of all adults between the ages of 40-75. Currently, the number of adults using statins is approximately 43.5 million.
While taking a statin is good for a person trying to level the playing field in regards to the good and bad cholesterol levels, they have some dangerous side effects. Statin consumption can be hazardous to one’s health with side effects that range from minor to rare. Some symptoms are typical with most prescriptions, for example, nausea, rashes and muscle aches, etcetera. These should be discussed with the prescribing physician if they persist.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) issued a report in 2014 examining the side effects of statin usage. Some patients reported cognitive problems, including issues with forgetfulness, memory loss, and confusion.
There are patients who run a risk of raised blood sugar levels that can lead to Type-2 Diabetic Mellitus. There was a conflicting report released in March 2015, which states Finnish researchers have determined that patients using statins have a significant risk of developing Type-2 diabetes.
Even more severe, and rare, are Myositis, an inflammation of the muscles and elevated levels of Creatine Kinase (CPK), a muscle enzyme that can cause muscle cramping. Even rarer is Rhabdomyolysis which causes extreme muscle inflammation and damage. Myositis is typically a result of medication interaction. CPK is a condition that can have a long recovery time. Rhabdomyolysis affects the muscles throughout the body; these muscles release proteins into the blood that collect in the kidneys. Renal failure can be the result of these proteins, but this is extremely rare and occurs in less than one in 10,000 statin users.
On the website Cholesterol Menu, a reader can find articles varying from foods to lower cholesterol, recipes, lowering levels without medication and more. Ideally, diet and exercise should be the first approach to maintaining the good levels of LDLs and HDLs. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommend men over 34 and men between the ages of 20 and 35 who have risk factors for heart disease, should be tested. Women ages 20 and older with the same heart disease risk factors should be tested as well. The ideal results from testing are for the total cholesterol levels to be under 200mg/dl; LDL should be 100 mg/dl or lower, HDL levels 60 mg/dl and above are desirable, and triglycerides 150 mg/dl or less.
Even though statin consumption can be hazardous to one’s health it is important to have the test done. The FDA says, “The benefit is indisputable, but they need to be taken with care and knowledge of their side effects.”
By Cathy Milne
FDA Consumer Health Information: FDA Expands Advice om STATIN RISKS
Cholesterol Menu: A Comprehensive Guide on Ideal Cholesterol Levels
WebMD: Side Effects of Cholesterol-Lowering Statin Drugs
The New York Times: 2 Studies Back Guidelines for Wider Use of Statins
Feature Photo Courtesy of Pranjal Mahna’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Photo Courtesy of Kurt Bauschardt’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License