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Health Break: What are statins and are they right for me?

Health care provider talks to a patient about statins

A podcast for UPMC Health Plan members, Health Break is your quick guide to caring for your mental and physical health, prioritizing wellness, and making the most of your health insurance plan.

Episode 45: Take a Health Break with Lindsay Joseph

Many people think that statins are used only to lower cholesterol. This class of medications can do much more. Learn how statins work and who can benefit from them.

Episode transcript:

Camille: Welcome to Health Break by UPMC Health Plan, your quick guide to health, wellness, and how to make the most of your health insurance plan. I’m your host, Dr. Camille Clarke-Smith. This is your…Health Break.

In this episode, Lindsay Joseph takes a Health Break to talk about statins. She will discuss what these medications are, how they work, and who can benefit from taking them. Lindsay, thank you for taking a Health Break with us today.

Lindsay: Thank you so much for having me.

Camille: Let’s get started. Could you explain, what are statins?

Lindsay: So I think when a lot of people hear statins, they think of cholesterol medications, and while that is what statins do, that’s not all that they can do. Statins have also been proven to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, which are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. There are millions of people in the U.S. that take a statin medication and they are very well tolerated. They’ve been proven to be both safe and effective. There are several different statin medications available, and if it’s right for you, your doctor will work with you to find the right one. They may take into consideration what your risk for heart disease is, what your current cholesterol levels are, and if you have any history of statin use.

Camille: So how do statins work?

Lindsay: Statins work to lower cholesterol, which is a waxy fat-like substance found in your blood. And although some of the cholesterol in your blood comes from food, most of it is actually made by your liver. And there are two main types of cholesterol. There’s the good cholesterol, referred to as HDL, and there’s bad cholesterol, also called LDL. And sometimes when your body has too much of the bad LDL cholesterol, this can lead to a buildup in your arteries called plaques. This restricts the blood flow and can increase your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. But statins can do a few important things to help prevent this from happening. They help lower that bad LDL cholesterol. They help increase your good HDL cholesterol. And lastly, they help prevent and stabilize plaque buildup on the walls of your arteries, reducing your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Camille: Who can benefit from taking a statin?

Lindsay: Health care providers prescribe statins to people for many reasons and not only because their cholesterol levels are high. Many people can benefit from a statin regardless of what their cholesterol level is based on their risk for heart disease or stroke. The benefits of using statin medications are really greatest for those that have the highest risk of health problems. This is why the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association have recommendations for statins. Make sure you talk to your doctor to see if a statin is right for you.

Camille: What are some potential side effects of taking statins to look out for?

Lindsay: So as it is with any medication, some people can experience side effects. Serious side effects from statins are very rare and people who do have problems generally experience mild ones. They’re very well tolerated. But some common side effects that we hear with statin medications include muscle pain, cramps, and weakness. However, these are very common problems that might not be attributed to the statin medication.

While the risk of experiencing side effects with statins is low, the risks from not taking a statin can be very high. Completely discontinuing your statin therapy can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. So it’s really best to avoid discontinuing altogether whenever possible. We always suggest that you talk to your provider if you have any symptoms or concerns. Many people who have had side effects to a statin in the past can actually tolerate a lower dose or a different statin altogether. In addition, some statins can be taken less frequently, yet still provide that cholesterol lowering and the cardiovascular benefits.

Camille: Thank you so much for that information. Would you like to share any other tips about taking statins with our members?

Lindsay: Definitely. So as it is with any medication, it’s really important that you take your statins and your other medications the way that your provider prescribes them. Taking your medications as prescribed is really critical in managing your condition and improving your overall well-being.

Some common tips that we recommend to help you stay on track with your medications include using a pillbox. So this is an easy way to keep your medications organized and make sure you don’t miss or double up on any doses.

Next, we suggest that you fill a three-month supply on your maintenance medications. This ensures you have enough medication on hand and can cut back on your trips to the pharmacy. We also suggest setting your statin prescription on automatic refills. This allows the pharmacy to refill it when it’s time, and they’ll even call or text you when it’s time to pick them up.

And lastly, just make taking your statin part of your daily routine.

Camille: Lindsay, thank you for spending some time with us and helping us learn all about statins.

Lindsay: Thanks again for having me.

Camille: Talk to your doctor about whether statins are right for you. You can also connect with a licensed pharmacist through UPMC AnywhereCare. Check the show notes for more information.

Find show notes and more information at Join us as we continue exploring health, wellness, and how to make the most of your health insurance plan in the next episode of Health Break.

This podcast is for informational and educational purposes. It is not medical care or advice. Individuals in need of medical care should consult their care provider. Views and opinions expressed by the hosts and guests are solely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of UPMC Health Plan and its employees.

About Lindsay Joseph: 

Lindsay Joseph

Lindsay Joseph is a senior clinical pharmacy specialist at UPMC Health Plan with 10 years of professional pharmacy experience. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, Lindsay worked as pharmacist and pharmacy manager at community pharmacies in the greater Pittsburgh area. Lindsay has been with UPMC Health Plan for seven years. In her current role, she supports various quality initiatives and UPMC Health Plan’s Medication Therapy Management (MTM) program.

About Dr. Camille Clarke-Smith: 

Camille Clarke-Smith, EdD, is a program director in the Quality Improvement, Medicare Stars Department at UPMC Health Plan, where she leads the Medicare Faith and Wellness Program, an 8-week health and wellness challenge. She is also the founder of the nonprofit Transforming the Health of African American Women (THAW) Inc., where the mission is to improve the health and quality of life of African American women and the communities in which they live. Dr. Clarke-Smith earned a doctorate in health and physical activity education from the University of Pittsburgh in addition to a master’s in exercise science and a bachelor’s in psychology and sociology. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in social work at Carlow University. 

*Members who are in Pennsylvania at the time of a virtual visit may select a UPMC-employed provider, subject to availability and discretion of the provider. Members located outside of Pennsylvania at the time of service or those who select Talk Therapy or Psychiatry services will receive care from a provider employed or contracted by Online Care Network II PC (OCN), also known as Amwell Medical Group. It is at the discretion of OCN providers to choose whether to treat patients ages 0 to 2. OCN is not an affiliate of UPMC. Limitations may apply for members of ASO plans who have opted out of coverage. Talk Therapy or Psychiatry services through AnywhereCare are not covered services for UPMC Community HealthChoices participants, UPMC for You members, or UPMC for Kids members. UPMC Children’s AnywhereCare is not available outside of Pennsylvania. If a member is under the age of 18, the member’s parent or legal guardian must be with the member during the video portion of the visit, and the child and parent or legal guardian must be in Pennsylvania during the visit. Providers are not available to treat members who are in Puerto Rico.