Second only to vaccines, statins are the most widely taken medication in the world. On average, statins can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol as much as 40 percent, even at the lowest prescribed dosage.
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But some people stop taking the drug after suffering side effects. Luckily, a workaround has been proven effective. A recent study confirms that with custom dosing, statin medications can safely lower cholesterol levels even for the most sensitive patients.
Leslie Cho, MD, cardiologist and Section Head of Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation in the Robert and Suzanne Tomsich Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, was the lead author in the study and says that even for statin-sensitive patients, “there is a very good chance that they will eventually be able to tolerate long-term use of a statin and benefit from its cholesterol-lowering effects.”
Sensitivity causes problems
About 10 – 20 percent of all patients who take the cholesterol-lowering drug develop statin sensitivity.
Some of the more common side effects associated with statin intolerance are:
- Muscle aches or weakness
- Liver problems
- Stomach and digestive problems such as nausea, bloating and constipation
- Headaches and colds
Sometimes patients are able to tolerate medications after taking time off from them. Switching the type of statin medication can also help.
As always, taking multiple types of medications can lead to side effects, so it is always important to analyze which medications you are currently taking for specific conditions.
Physicians sometimes recommend that their statin-sensitive patients stagger or skip daily doses. Rather than taking a statin every day, a patient would take the medication every other day, or perhaps five days out of the week, rather than seven.
Dr. Cho advises patients to talk to their physicians instead of trying to adjust their medication dose on their own.
Study confirms solution
Dr. Cho led researchers in reviewing the medical records of 1,605 statin-intolerant patients and analyzed how well intermittent dosing worked in lowering cholesterol levels while preventing side effects.
The results of the study, published in the September edition of the American Heart Journal, give hope to statin-intolerant patients.
More than 70 percent of patients with statin sensitivity were able to successfully resume taking statins daily when their care was carefully monitored and managed. Changing the type of statin prescribed helped some patients, as did eliminating troublesome drug interactions.
In patients who couldn’t tolerate daily doses, intermittent dosing still succeeded in lowering patient cholesterol levels. Dr. Cho says, “Even if patients cannot tolerate a daily dose of a statin, it’s possible to see a significant reduction in cholesterol levels from taking the drug less often, even as infrequently as once a week.”
Given the proven benefits of statin medications, it seems that slow, and sometimes not steady can help win the race against cardiovascular disease.