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Myths About Statins Abound, but Do Statins Help?

statin pills next to stethoscope on counter

The Connection Between Statins and Diabetes

By: Amanda Springstroh, RN, quality health coordinator at Network Heath
Originally published on 11/15/2021 at 1:55 p.m.

On its own, diabetes presents several health risks that can become serious and even life-threatening if not managed. Alongside these symptoms, however, diabetes also puts you at an increased risk for other health problems such as heart disease and stroke.

As the leading cause of death in both men and women, heart disease is found in diabetics at a rate of two to four times as much as those without diabetes. A similar statistic applies for strokes.

This makes it especially important to control risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking/alcohol consumption, higher saturated fat or sodium intake, and lower levels of physical activity.

The good news is that, unlike genetic risk factors, these lifestyle-based risks factors are modifiable. The fewer you have, the lower your risk for developing a serious health condition and the higher your chance of surviving one.

What is cholesterol and how does it relate to diabetes?

You’ve no doubt heard about cholesterol before, but what exactly is it?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in foods and produced by your liver. While your body does need a small amount of cholesterol to function, too much of it in your blood can lead to plaque buildup.

That plaque can build up along the inner walls of your arteries, decreasing blood flow. Additionally, the arteries can undergo atherosclerosis or a hardening. This hardening of arteries combined with potentially obstructing plaque buildup, can cause a cardiac event like a heart attack or if blood flow is inhibited to the brain, a stroke.

Because those with diabetes typically produce more cholesterol and are less likely to absorb the cholesterol quickly, atherosclerosis is a significant medical risk.

For this reason, most people with diabetes keep track of their blood sugar but would do well to also monitor cholesterol numbers as well.

What is a good cholesterol number?

Most people should try to keep their total cholesterol below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). A good HDL level is greater than 40mg/dl and an ideal LDL cholesterol level for adults with diabetes is under 100 mg/dl.

High cholesterol has no symptoms, so seeing your personal doctor on an annual basis and following recommendations such as completing simple blood tests to check your cholesterol and diabetes are the simplest ways to have the best treatment and diagnosis.

Where do statin medications enter the picture?

Fortunately, medications called statins are effective at lowering cholesterol in the blood. The American Diabetes Association recommends that all adults over the age of 40 with diabetes take a statin in addition to lifestyle changes and diabetes therapy.

Which statin should I take if I have diabetes?

Since different types of statins exist, it is important to discuss with your personal doctor which one is right for you based on your overall cardiovascular risk and other health factors.

All statins work by reducing the amount of cholesterol that is produced by the liver and helping to remove the cholesterol that is already in the blood. As previously stated, statin therapy should be started with all diabetics regardless of cholesterol level in all adults 40-75 years of age.

Those who are younger than 45, or older than 75, should talk to their personal doctor before starting use. The higher a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke, the stronger the benefit of the statin.

In general, taking a statin as a long-term commitment can cut a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke in half.

Some common names of statins are Atorvastatin, Simvastatin, Rosuvastatin Pravastatin, Lovastatin and Fluvastatin.

Do statins have side effects?

Statins are tolerated well by most people, but they can have side effects. Since some of these side effects tend to go away as the body adjusts to the medication, it is important to always talk to your personal doctor if you experience symptoms.

It is good practice to keep a list of all medications, supplements and over-the-counter drugs you are taking, so you can decide which medication is right for you. If you have taken a statin before and experienced any side effects, let your doctor know that too. They may want to decrease your dose or try a different type of statin. Never stop taking a statin without talking to your doctor first.

What can I do to help control my cholesterol if I have diabetes?

Managing your cholesterol and diabetes takes more than medications alone. It is just as important to mention that sticking to healthy lifestyle habits is also recommended as part of the approach to managing your diabetes, lowering cholesterol and preventing heart disease.

You’ve probably already made changes in your diet to help keep your diabetes within an acceptable range. A few additional diet modifications to help manage cholesterol include limiting unhealthy fats, such as those in red meat and dairy products.

Choose more heart-healthy foods such as lean meats, nuts, fish, avocados, and whole grains. Knowing which foods to eat and which ones to limit is a good step in managing your cholesterol and diabetes.

It also should be mentioned that living a healthy lifestyle is not only of diet alone. It is just as important to stop smoking or using tobacco products, limit alcoholic drinks, manage stress, get adequate sleep and strive for regular physical activity.

If you have diabetes and are not taking a statin medication, talk to your personal doctor about your treatment options. Statin therapy coupled with a healthy lifestyle, can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke and allow you to live a healthier life so you can enjoy the things you love.

If you have questions about how your Wisconsin health plan can help you live your best life with diabetes, we’d love to help.

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