Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes
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The primary function of taking statins is to lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol is a fatty substance that can harden and narrow your arteries – a mechanism that contributes to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Fortunately, statins reduce the production of LDL cholesterol inside the liver. The drugs are not entirely harmless, however.
Like all medicines, statins can cause side effects.
“But most people tolerate them well and do not have any problems,” notes the NHS.
However, there have been reports of adverse reactions, such as the development of ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis is a long-term condition where the colon and rectum become inflamed.
According to a review article published in the British Medical Journal, the development of ulcerative colitis as an adverse reaction to simvastatin has been reported, which, despite withdrawal of the drug, proved fatal.
Simvastatin is one of the main types of statin taken.
“The adverse reaction profile of the statins is reviewed, which suggests that this is a class effect and not one limited to simvastatin,” the article noted.
Although the BMJ article links ulcerative colitis to all types of statin, it emphasises the complication is rare.
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“This would appear to be a rare side effect of statin treatment, but one which, like other adverse drug reactions, is almost certainly subject to under-reporting,” the article concluded.
It added: “Always consider drugs as a possible cause of new symptoms.”
What are the symptoms of ulcerative colitis?
According to the NHS, the main symptoms of ulcerative colitis are:
Recurring diarrhoea, which may contain blood, mucus or pusTummy painNeeding to empty your bowels frequently.
You may also experience extreme tiredness (fatigue), loss of appetite and weight loss,” adds the health body.
Weighing up the pros and cons
The risks of any statin side effects also have to be balanced against the benefits of preventing serious problems.
A review of scientific studies into the effectiveness of statins found around one in every 50 people who take the medicine for five years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke, as a result.
It is important to note that you can lower high cholesterol levels naturally too.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is integral to reducing harmful cholesterol levels.
One of the most important dietary tips is to reduce your intake of saturated fat.
As the Mayo Clinic explains, saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and full-fat dairy products, raise your total cholesterol.
“Decreasing your consumption of saturated fats can reduce your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol,” says the health body.
Regular exercise can also improve cholesterol levels, it notes.
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