Keeping ‘bad’ cholesterol (or LDL cholesterol) at a low level in the blood is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Blood cholesterol levels can be lowered with diet and exercise, but many people at high risk also need help from a cholesterol-lowering medicine, even if your cholesterol levels are normal.
Statins are the most effective group of cholesterol-lowering medicines. As well as lowering cholesterol, statins reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke for people at risk. Statins include medicines with any of the following active ingredients: atorvastatin, fluvastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin.
For these medicines to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke they need to be taken every day and for the long term. Yet, like maintaining a healthy diet or exercising regularly, many people at risk of heart attack or stroke can find it challenging to stick with their prescribed cholesterol-lowering medicine.
Be medicinewise about your cholesterol-lowering treatment
Know why you are taking medicine
The reason for taking a cholesterol-lowering medicine is to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. Track your cholesterol levels — you may find it motivating to keep track of your progress in reducing all your risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Stick with your treatment
About 1 in 4 Australians prescribed a cholesterol-lowering medicine stop taking it within the first year. This is often because they don't think the medicine is making a difference. In fact, statins provide greater protective benefit after the first year of taking them, so even though you can’t feel them working it’s well worth sticking with the treatment.
Tell your doctor if you think you are experiencing a side effect
Most people who take statins notice no side effects. Muscle pain is commonly reported by people taking statins, but serious muscle problems are rare. People taking statins should report any muscle pain or weakness to their doctor to assess whether the medicine could be the cause. There are a number of other alternatives to statins for people who cannot tolerate them, but no other cholesterol-lowering medicines have been shown to be as effective in reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Use a calendar, alarm or other system to help you remember to take your medicine
One of the most common reasons people don’t take their medicines is because they forget. Make a note, tick off a calendar, or use a Webster-pak, dose set box or a plastic box with compartments to help you remember whether you’ve taken your medicine.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are concerned about taking the medicine
You may find it helpful to build a list of questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist.