Statins are the most widely used drug to lower cholesterol and hence are used in patients with cardiovascular disease.

Mechanism of action

Statins inhibit the action of HMG-CoA reductase, the rate-limiting enzyme in hepatic cholesterol synthesis


Who should receive a statin?
  • All people with established cardiovascular disease (stroke, TIA, ischaemic heart disease, peripheral arterial disease)
  • Following the 2014 update, NICE recommend anyone with a 10-year cardiovascular risk >= 10%
  • Patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus should now be assessed using QRISK2 like other patients are, to determine whether they should be started on statins
  • Patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus who were diagnosed more than 10 years ago OR are aged over 40 OR have established nephropathy

Adverse effects

  • Myopathy: includes myalgia, myositis, rhabdomyolysis and asymptomatic raised creatine kinase. Risks factors for myopathy include advanced age, female sex, low body mass index and presence of multisystem disease such as diabetes mellitus. Myopathy is more common in lipophilic statins (simvastatin, atorvastatin) than relatively hydrophilic statins (rosuvastatin, pravastatin, fluvastatin)
  • Liver impairment: the 2014 NICE guidelines recommend checking LFTs at baseline, 3 months and 12 months. Treatment should be discontinued if serum transaminase concentrations rise to and persist at 3 times the upper limit of the reference range
  • There is some evidence that statins may increase the risk of intracerebral haemorrhage in patients who've previously had a stroke. This effect is not seen in primary prevention. For this reason the Royal College of Physicians recommend avoiding statins in patients with a history of intracerebral haemorrhage


Statins should be taken at night as this is when the majority of cholesterol synthesis takes place. This is especially true for simvastatin which has a shorter half-life than other statins