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Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 26.01.2023 | 3 min read

Statins are a type of medication that are classed as lipid-regulating medications. Lipids are fat compounds found in the body that include cholesterol and triglycerides. They are used for many important functions, but sometimes there is too much of a good thing!

High levels of non-HDL cholesterol and triglycerides can lead to the build-up of fatty deposits in your arteries (known as atherosclerosis), increasing your risk of developing cardiovascular problems such as coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack or stroke. Therefore, taking a statin reduces this risk.

Statins reduce the production of'bad cholesterol' (non-HDL cholesterol), and can also lower triglyceride levels and increase'good cholesterol' (HDL cholesterol) levels in your body. Statins work by inhibiting an enzyme in your body called HMG-CoA reductase. There are five statins available on prescription in the UK. These are atorvastatin, simvastatin, rosuvastatin, pravastatin, and fluvastatin.

Who are they for?

Statins are mainly prescribed to adults, but sometimes they can be used in children as well. Statins are for people who have high levels of non-HDL cholesterol and triglycerides in their blood. Lifestyle factors and genetics can both play a part in this. Older people with normal lipid levels may also be prescribed a statin if they are at a high risk of developing cardiovascular problems.

How should I take a statin?

Your doctor will tell you exactly how to take your statin. Generally, statins should be taken once a day. Simvastatin and pravastatin should be taken at night (as they work better when taken at this time). Atorvastatin and rosuvastatin can be taken at any time of the day. Fluvastatin is slightly different because capsules should be taken at night, whereas tablets can be taken at any time of the day. Ideally, try to take your statin at the same time each day.

Grapefruit juice can interact with simvastatin and atorvastatin, increasing your risk of developing side effects. Therefore, you should try to avoid drinking grapefruit juice. Statins can be taken with or without food. Women of childbearing age need to use contraception when taking a statin because statins carry a risk of causing birth defects. When you are taking a statin, your doctor may want to carry out some blood tests to check it is working and not causing any problems.

Should anyone avoid taking a statin?

Do not take a specific statin if you have previously had an allergic reaction to that specific statin or another ingredient listed in the medication. Statins are not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Ideally, women should stop taking a statin three months before trying to conceive. Women that want to try for a baby when taking a statin should make an appointment to see their doctor to discuss further. 

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