Statins are a group of medicines used to lower levels of cholesterol in your blood.
They are taken to treat and prevent cardiovascular diseases (CVD) including heart attacks and strokes.
A GP may prescribe statins if:
- you have high cholesterol
- you have been diagnosed with a form of CVD
- you're likely to develop CVD and lifestyle measures such as diet and exercise have not reduced this risk
Statins are prescription-only and come as tablets.
Types of statins
Statins available in Ireland include:
- atorvastatin (also called Lipitor or Atorvas)
- rosuvastatin (also called Crestor or Rosuva)
- pravastatin (also called Pravitin or Pravamel)
- simvastatin (also called Zocor, Sivatin, Simator or Simtan)
- fluvastatin (also called Lescol or Fluvastenol)
Uses of statins
Statins work by reducing your liver's production of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), often called 'bad cholesterol'.
They also work by reducing other types of fat in the blood called triglycerides.
They are used to treat and prevent different forms of CVD. CVD is a general term that describes a disease of the heart or blood vessels. It's a leading cause of death in Ireland.
The main types of CVD are:
- coronary heart disease – when blood supply to the heart is restricted
- angina – chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscles
- heart attacks – when supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked
- stroke – when supply of blood to the brain is blocked
Get emergency help
You might have to get emergency help if you have serious side effects or an allergic reaction to statins.
Serious side effects
Serious side effects (anaphylaxis) with statins are rare.
Urgent advice: Call a GP urgently and stop taking statins if you get:
- muscle pain, weakness or cramps, and dark pee - these are dangerous signs, particularly if you also feel unwell or have a high temperature
- yellow skin or eyes, pale poo or dark pee
- a severe skin rash with peeling and swelling of the skin, and pink-red blotches, especially on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
- severe stomach pain
- a cough, feeling short of breath, and weight loss
- unusual bleeding or bruising
Serious allergic reaction
In rare cases it's possible to have a serious allergic reaction to statins.
Emergency action required: Call 112 or 999 or go to an emergency department (ED) if:
- you get a skin rash
- you have trouble breathing
- your mouth, face, lips, tongue or throat start swelling
Check if you can take statins
Statins are not suitable for everyone.
Check with your GP that it's safe to take statins if you:
- have ever had an allergic reaction to statins or other medicines
- have liver or kidney problems
- have severe lung disease or difficulty breathing
- take medicine for bacterial or viral infections
- take medicines call fibrates
- are of Asian origin, such as Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean or Indian - your GP needs to choose the right start dose of Crestor to suit you
- over the age of 70 years
- drink large amounts of alcohol
- have an underactive thyroid
- have had muscular side effects when taking a statin in the past
- have had repeated or unexplained muscle aches or pains, or family history of muscle problems - including fibromyalgia
- are trying to get pregnant, pregnant, or breastfeeding
Atorvastatin is also not suitable if you've had a stroke, or have phenylketonuria.
How and when to take statins
Always take statins exactly as your GP or pharmacist has told you. Check with your GP or pharmacist if you are not sure.
Usually, statins should be taken once a day.
Simvastatin, pravastatin and fluvastatin should be taken at night. This is because most of the cholesterol your body produces is during the night time.
Atorvastatin or rosuvastatin can be taken at any time, as long as you stick to the same time every day.
Statins do not usually upset the stomach. You can take them with or without food.
Swallow statin tablets whole with a glass of water.
If you forget to take a dose
Take your missed dose as soon as you remember, unless it's nearly time for the next dose. In this case, skip the missed dose and take your next dose as normal.
Do not take a double dose to make up for a forgotten dose.
If you often forget doses, it may help to set a reminder alarm.
Side effects of statins
Talk to your GP or pharmacist if side effects bother you or do not go away.
Common side effects include:
- aches and pains
- feeling or being sick
- feeling weak or dizzy
- memory loss
- sore throat
- cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose
- constipation or wind
- stomach pain, diarrhoea or indigestion
See the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine for a full list of side effects.
Non-urgent advice: Find your patient information leaflet
Your patient information leaflet is the leaflet that comes with your medicine. You can find a digital version of the leaflet online.
Report side effects
You can report any suspected side effects to the the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA): report an issue - hrpa.ie
Taking statins with other medicines
Some medicines may interfere with statins.
Tell your GP or pharmacist if you are taking, have recently taken or might take any other medicines or supplements.
Tell your GP if you're taking:
- antibiotics and antifungals
- HIV medicines
- medications to treat cancer, such as regorafenib or darolutamide
- indigestion remedies
- the contraceptive pill
- hepatitis C medicines
- warfarin, clopidogrel or any medicine used for thinning the blood
- ciclosporin or other medicines that alter your immune system
- verapamil or diltiazem (medicines used to treat blood pressure or heart problems)
- fibrates such as gemfibrozil or fenofibrate
- or any other medicine used to lower cholesterol such as ezetimibe
Statins can also interact with grapefruit juice so you should avoid it, particularly if you are taking simvastatin.
Tell your GP if you take any herbal remedies, vitamins or supplements.
This content was fact checked by a pharmacist, a GP, the National Medication Safety Programme (Safermeds) and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).