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Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke with Statins

Statins are medications that reduce the liver’s production of cholesterol. This helps people who are at high risk of heart disease or stroke.

If you have any of the conditions listed below, you may be at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke. Having more than one of these health issues makes the risk even higher.

  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Already had a cardiac event

The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association suggest that statins can help lower the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken regularly. Healthy lifestyle choices help lower the risk even more.

If you have diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, you may be at higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Here’s why:

LDL (bad) cholesterol deposits as plaque. Your liver produces cholesterol – a type of fat – to help build healthy cell walls, hormones, and to protect nerve tissue. It is also a natural part of the food we eat. Extra cholesterol can be stored inside the walls of our arteries as plaque, causing health problems.

Plaque builds up and narrows blood vessels. Over time, plaque hardens, builds up, and decreases blood flow. The opening inside the artery narrows, and blood can’t flow easily to many parts of the body.

Inflammation can loosen plaque and cause clots. Cholesterol and plaque build-up can cause inflammation – the redness, swelling, pain, heat, and soreness that happens when you are sick or hurt. Inflammation can also loosen plaque in your arteries and trigger blood clots – the main cause of heart attacks and strokes.

Heart disease and high blood pressure. When these conditions are not treated or well controlled, your heart works harder to pump blood to all the organs. When this happens for a long time, your heart may weaken, which can reduce the blood flow to the heart, brain and other parts of your body.

Diabetes narrows blood vessels. High levels of blood sugar make it hard for blood vessels to bring blood to the heart, brain, and other organs.

What happens if blood flow is reduced or blocked by plaque?

  • If this happens in a coronary artery feeding the heart, the result is a heart attack.
  • If this happens in the blood supply to the brain, the result is a stroke.
  • If the event is severe, the result can cause disability or death.


Lower cholesterol

Statins lower the production of bad (LDL) cholesterol and help absorb built-up plaque in blood vessels.

Reduce inflammation

Statins limit inflammation in blood vessels, lowering the risk of blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes.

Reduce and stabilize plaque

Statins reduce the amount of plaque and make it less likely that the plaque will break off and block blood flow to the heart and brain. NOTE: This happens at all cholesterol levels. So even if your cholesterol is nearly normal, statins could still protect you.

Statins reduce the risk of heart disease

  • For someone with diabetes, but no history of heart disease, statins reduce the risk by 25% or more:
    • 25% less chance of heart attack or stroke
  • For someone who already had a cardiac event, statins can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke or death:
    • 27% less chance of dying from heart attack
    • 16% less chance of stroke
    • 19% less chance of dying from any cause        

How statins help prevent heart attacks and strokes

Infographic Description

How statins help prevent heart attacks and strokes:

  • The liver produces cholesterol. Cholesterol is also in the food we eat.
  • When there is more cholesterol than we need, cholesterol deposits as plaque and builds up in the walls of blood vessels. This can lead to:
    • Inflammation
      • Plaque can break off and trigger clots.
        • When this happens, clots can block blood flow to the heart or brain.   
          • If no blood or less blood flows to the heart, one might have a heart attack, which may result in death or disability.
          • If no blood or less blood flows to the brain, one might have a stroke, which may result in death or disability.
        • More plaque narrowing blood vessels
          • When this happens ... there is less blood flow to body parts.
            • If no blood or less blood flows to the heart, one might have a heart attack, which may result in death or disability.
            • If no blood or less blood flows to the brain, one might have a stroke, which may result in death or disability. 
  • Statins lower the production of LDL (bad) cholesterol by the liver.
  • Statins help absorb plaque buildup.
  • Statins reduce inflammation that can cause plaque to break off.
  • Statins stabilize plaque so it's less likely to break off and make clots.

Commonly prescribed statin medications include:

  • Lovastatin
  • Pravastatin
  • Simvastatin
  • Atorvastatin
  • Rosuvastatin

Talk to your doctor about side effects

  • Most people do not suffer side effects from statins. The most common side effects are muscle soreness, fatigue, and upset stomach (in only a small percentage of people who take statins).
  • If you suffer from side effects, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can lower the dosage or switch statins.

If your doctor has prescribed a statin, it’s important you follow your doctor’s orders and keep taking it as prescribed.

Taking your medications correctly and on time is important for your health and well-being. And following your overall treatment plan can help you stay healthy and symptom-free.

Create a routine. Take medication with an activity you do at the same time every day.

  • Mealtimes               
  • Brushing teeth

Set an alarm. An alarm can be helpful, especially if you are busier at certain times of the day or if you need to take your medication at a specific time.

Post a note. Put a reminder note somewhere it will be seen every day:

  • Refrigerator            
  • Kitchen cabinet

Keep it visible. Leave medicine in a safe place that is easy to spot:

  • Bedroom nightstand           
  • Kitchen counter

Use a pillbox. Serves as a reminder and helps prevent double doses.

Record each dose. Use a calendar or medication journal to check off when you take each dose.

Flip pill bottle over. Each time you take your medicine, flip the pill bottle over so you know it has been taken.

90-day refills. Fewer trips to the pharmacy reduces your chance of missing any days on your medicine.

Carry extra doses. Leave some extra doses in a bag/ purse you use often so you can take your medicine if you are away from home.

Keep medicine with each caregiver. If you ever stay with different caregivers, keep some medicine at each house.

Did you know? Statins are normally taken at bedtime because the liver produces the most cholesterol at night. Also, some foods like grapefruit and grapefruit juice make statins less effective. If you eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice, let your doctor know.

Lifestyle changes can help reduce - and even reverse - your risk for heart disease. These tips can help you feel your best and live a healthy life.

Take your statins daily (or as your doctor advises). Statins lower your cholesterol production and stabilize existing plaque in your blood vessels.

Quit smoking. Tobacco smoke narrows blood vessels and causes plaque to form. People who smoke are two-to-four times more likely to get heart disease.

Maintain a healthy weight. Your Body Mass Index (BMI) should be less than 25. Excess weight makes your heart work harder. It also raises blood pressure and cholesterol.

Measure your blood pressure often. Measure it at different times of the day and keep a diary to track results. Grocery stores and pharmacies often have kiosks that perform blood pressure readings.

Stay active at least 30 minutes a day*. Your heart is a muscle, so like other muscles, activity helps make it stronger. A strong heart can pump more blood with less effort to the body. Staying active also keeps your weight down and helps combat inflammation.

Eat a heart-healthy diet. Limit processed foods and salt. Avoid saturated fats. Eat whole foods instead.

Reduce stress and get a good night's sleep.

If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar controlled.

*Please talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.