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What Do I Need to Know About Statins to Lower Cholesterol?

Precautions and Possible Side Effects With Statins

Precautions to take when you are on statins:

  • Remind your doctor of your age. Unless the cholesterol is very high, statins are not usually the first medicine of choice for young adults who don't have CHD.

  • Keep all your follow-up visits with your doctor - especially when you first start taking a statin and any time your dose is changed. Your doctor will check your liver enzymes 6 to 12 weeks after you first start taking a statin with a blood test to make sure that liver damage is not occurring. You will then need a blood test to check your liver about every 4 to 6 months once you are on a set dose of your statin. If your liver enzymes or creatine kinase values rise to more than three times the normal limit, you should stop taking statins.

  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or if you have active or chronic liver disease. People with these conditions should not take statins.

Taking these actions will help ensure that you take your statins safely.

Most Common Side Effects. The most common side effect of statins is gastrointestinal upset. This may include:

  • constipation
  • cramping
  • diarrhea
  • gas
  • heartburn
  • indigestion
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
Less Common Side Effects. You may also have these less common side effects:
  • blurred vision
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • liver damage, which sometimes causes yellowing of eyes and skin
  • rash

Severe Side Effects. Less often, statins may cause severe side effects. Report any muscle pain or brownish or rust-colored urine to your doctor immediately. Some people have muscle pain when taking statins. In rare cases, people taking statins develop a condition that causes muscle weakness and wasting of muscle tissue called myopathy. Severe myopathy is more frequent in people who take high doses of some statins along with cyclosporine, gemfibrozil, or nicotinic acid. Taking erythromycin or itraconazole along with some statins may increase your risk for muscle inflammation.

Tell your doctor immediately if you develop muscle aching, weakness, or dark urine. If any of these things occurs, your doctor may order a blood test to measure a muscle enzyme in the blood called creatine kinase.

In rare cases, statin medicines have been linked with liver inflammation, called hepatitis. To be on the lookout for that, your doctor will monitor your liver function.