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What to know about statin medications

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Get to know the facts about statin medications and how they can improve your health

What is a statin? [1]

A statin is a type of medication that lowers cholesterol, but that’s not all that it does. Statins are also proven to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are two of the leading causes of death in the U.S.

Statins include medications such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor), and simvastatin (Zocor).

How does a statin work to help lower cholesterol and your risk for heart attack and stroke? [2], [3]

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your blood. Although some cholesterol in your blood comes from food, most is made by your liver. Sometimes cholesterol can build up in your arteries (forming “plaque”), which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. Statins do a few important things to prevent this from happening:

  • They slow down the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL/”bad”) cholesterol your liver produces.
  • They help the liver remove LDL cholesterol that is already in your blood.
  • They help lower triglycerides (blood fats) and raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL/“good”) cholesterol.
  • They help prevent and stabilize plaque buildup on the walls of your arteries.

Learn more about cholesterol: About Cholesterol |

Who can benefit from taking a statin?

Health care providers prescribe statins to people for many reasons—not just because their cholesterol levels are high. Many people can benefit from statin medications based on their risk for heart disease or stroke, including: [4]

  • People with heart disease, a prior heart attack, some types of stroke, or angina (chest pain due to not enough blood flow to the heart).
  • People 40 to 75 years old with diabetes, regardless of cholesterol levels.
  • People with LDL cholesterol levels of 190 mg/dL or more.
  • People 40 to 75 years old with LDL cholesterol levels of 70­mg/dL or more and a certain risk of heart disease.

Tips for taking statin medications.

It’s important to take statins and other medications the way your health care provider prescribes them. Taking your medications as prescribed is critical to managing your condition and improving your overall well-being.[5] Use these tips to help you stay on track with your medications:

  • Stay consistent. Ask your doctor about getting a three-month supply of your maintenance medication(s).
  • Make it convenient. Having trouble getting to the pharmacy or don’t have time to pick up your prescriptions? Ask your pharmacy if they offer delivery services, or call the number on the back of your member ID card to find out if you are eligible for mail-order prescription benefits. There are also select pharmacies that organize your medications and deliver them directly to your home. Call member services at the number on your member ID for more information and to see if you are eligible.
  • Make it automatic. Ask your pharmacy about automatic refills. This allows the pharmacy to fill your medications when they are due to help make sure you don’t run out. You will get a call or text message when it’s time to pick them up.
  • Reminder tools. Use an alarm or an app on your phone to remind you when to take your medication. Take your medication as soon as you’re alerted so you do not forget to take it. Another option is using a pillbox. A pillbox can help you stay organized and remind you to take your pills each day. UPMC has partnered with select pharmacies that will organize your medications into pouches based on date and time of dose, eliminating the need for you to fill up a pillbox. Call member services at the number on your member ID for more information and to see if you are eligible.
  • Know the side effects. As with any medication, some people may experience side effects. Although typically well-tolerated, side effects of statin use may include muscle pain, cramps, and weakness.[6] However, there may be other reasons people have these symptoms. Talk to your provider if you have any symptoms or concerns. Your provider may suggest switching to a different statin or trying a lower dose. Some statins may be taken less frequently yet still provide cholesterol-lowering and cardiovascular benefits.

Talk to a licensed pharmacist and get your statin questions answered

While statins are well-tolerated by most people, you may have questions about them.[7] Ask a pharmacist through UPMC AnywhereCare makes it easy to speak with a pharmacist over a video chat. If you are a UPMC Health Plan member, you can use this service for free.[8] To get started:

  • Log in to UPMC AnywhereCare or create an account.
  • Select Ask a Pharmacist.
  • Schedule a virtual appointment.

You can also call 412-402-3602 (TTY: 711). Help is available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

[1] About cholesterol. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed March 20, 2023. Accessed July 10, 2023.

[2] Statins and diabetes: what you should know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed Jan. 30, 2023. Accessed July 10, 2023.

[3] How the heart works. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed Jan. 24, 2022. Accessed July 10, 2023.,the%20blood%20becomes%20oxygen%20poor.

[4] Half of those who need them not taking cholesterol-lowering medications. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed Dec. 3, 2015. Accessed July 10, 2023.

[5] Why you need to take your medications as prescribed or instructed. Food and Drug Administration. Reviewed Feb. 16, 2016. Accessed July 10, 20223.

[6] Di Stasi SL, MacLeod TD, Winters JD, et al. Effects of statins on skeletal muscle: a perspective for physical therapists. Phys Ther. 2010 Oct;90(10):1530-42. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20090251. Epub 2010 Aug 5. PMID: 20688875; PMCID: PMC2949584.

[7] Cholesterol levels and statin use in patients with coronary heart disease treated in primary care settings. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed March 30, 2012. Accessed July 10, 2023.

[8] If your primary health insurance is not provided by UPMC Health Plan or an affiliate, there may be a cost associated with this service. If you are unsure of your health insurer carrier and any potential member liability, please contact the number on your member ID card to confirm.