Statins may be recommended if you have cardiovascular disease (CVD) or a high risk of developing it in the next 10 years.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels.
It's often caused by high cholesterol and is the most common cause of death in the UK.
The main types of CVD are:
- coronary heart disease – when the blood supply to the heart becomes restricted as a result of the hardening and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- angina – chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscles
- heart attacks – when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked
- strokes and transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs) – when the supply of blood to the brain becomes blocked or disrupted
- peripheral arterial disease (PAD) – when a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries restricts blood supply to the limbs
Statins cannot cure these conditions, but they can help prevent them getting worse or recurring in people who have been diagnosed with them.
They can also reduce the chance of CVD developing in the first place in people at risk.
Statins are usually used in combination with lifestyle measures, such as:
- eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat
- exercising regularly
- stopping smoking
- moderating your alcohol consumption
If you do not have any form of CVD, statins may still be recommended if you're thought to be at a high risk of developing the condition in the future.
The current recommendation is that you should be offered statins if:
- you have at least a 1 in 10 chance of developing CVD at some point in the next 10 years
- lifestyle measures, such as exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet, have not reduced this risk
A GP may recommend carrying out a formal assessment of your CVD risk if they think you may be at an increased risk of CVD, based on your personal and family medical history.
For this formal assessment, the GP or practice nurse will use CVD risk assessment computer software that takes into account factors such as:
- your age
- if you're male or female
- your ethnic group, as some have an increased risk of CVD
- your weight and height
- if you smoke or have previously smoked
- if you have a family history of CVD
- your blood pressure
- your blood cholesterol levels
- if you have certain long-term conditions – such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis and atrial fibrillation (a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate)
Find out more about NHS screening.
Statins can also be used to treat familial hypercholesterolaemia.
This is an inherited condition caused by a genetic fault that leads to high cholesterol levels, even in people who have a generally healthy lifestyle.