Blog What are statins?
a pill bottle lying on its side with pills spilling out onto the table.
The term ‘statins’ refers to drugs that help to reduce the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol is better known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because it can block your arteries. This puts you at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Types of statins

There are five types of statins available in the UK:

  • Simvastatin 
  • Atorvastatin
  • Fluvastatin
  • Pravastatin
  • Rosuvastatin

They can all be used to treat high cholesterol – which one you are prescribed can depend on a range of factors. You shouldn’t stop taking statins without starting a new treatment. If you do, your cholesterol levels will start to rise again.

They might not be suitable for some people who have:

  • Kidney or liver problems
  • A muscle disorder
  • An underactive thyroid
  • Lung disease
  • Alcohol problems

You should also tell your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

How do statins work to lower cholesterol in the body?

It’s important to note that cholesterol isn’t wholly bad. Your body uses cholesterol for digestion and hormone production. However, a build up of LDL cholesterol can narrow or block an artery. This could cause a heart attack or stroke. 

Statins work to reduce your cholesterol levels in two ways. The first method is to reduce cholesterol production in your body. We get cholesterol both from this production process and from our diets, which can mean we end up with too much. Statins reduce your total cholesterol level by stopping the enzyme used to produce it.
The second method is actually a side effect of the first. Statins also help your body to reabsorb existing cholesterol in your blood. If your body can’t find enough cholesterol in your bloodstream, it must find it elsewhere. Your body can break down LDL cholesterol deposits that have formed in your arteries. This helps to reduce your risk of CVD.

Types of statins for cholesterol

What is simvastatin?

Simvastatin comes in tablets that are available on prescription. Users rarely experience side effects, but drinking grapefruit juice can increase the risks. Take simvastatins in the evening, as your body produces the most cholesterol at night. It can take about four weeks for your cholesterol levels to fall using simvastatins.

What is atorvastatin?

Atorvastatin tablets are available on prescription only. Side effects of atorvastatins can include headaches, nausea, diarrhoea and cold-like symptoms. These are usually mild. Atorvastatins should reduce your cholesterol levels in up to four weeks. Drinking over a litre of grapefruit juice in a day can make the risk of side effects greater.

What is fluvastatin?

Fluvastatins are available as both capsules and prolonged-release tablets. Capsules should be taken in the evening, as your body makes most of your cholesterol at night. It doesn’t matter when in the day you take prolonged-release tablets, but it should be the same time every day.

Taking fluvastatins can cause mild side effects such as headaches, nausea and insomnia. However, there is a small risk of more serious side effects developing. If you’re concerned about a symptom, consult your doctor.

What is pravastatin?

Pravastatins are tablets available on prescription. They don’t usually cause side effects in people who take them. Your cholesterol levels should fall in about four weeks if you follow your doctor’s advice.

What is rosuvastatin?

Available on prescription, rosuvastatins come in tablet form. Taking rosuvastatins may cause some dizziness and nausea. If this occurs, you should not drive or operate heavy machinery. Speak to your doctor if you experience unexplained muscle pains or aches. They may recommend a different statin.
If you’re using rosuvastatins tablets as prescribed, they should begin to work within a week. It may take up to a month for their effects to show – allow four weeks for your blood cholesterol levels to drop.

Can you buy statins over the counter?

Most statins require a prescription from a GP or licensed online prescriber. Some lower dose statins are available over the counter. Your doctor can advise you on potential side effects, dosage levels, and whether these medicines are right for you.

Here at Access Doctor, you can arrange an online consultation with an independent prescriber registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). They will assess your situation, and if you are accepted, your medicine will be delivered to your door.

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