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Q: My doctors want me to take statins, but I've heard so many bad things about them. Why are they still recommended?

Statins are medications intended to reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream. In many people, bad cholesterol levels are too high as a result of genetic factors, no matter how good their diet, placing them at high risk for heart attacks and strokes. In patients with extremely high cholesterol or in patients who have already suffered a heart attack or stroke, lowering the bad cholesterol is of crucial importance in reducing the risk of a second, potentially crippling or life-shortening event. Most of the "bad things" about which many people worry are really misunderstandings and misconceptions spread by people without adequate knowledge or understanding of the medications. As with all medications, there are potential side effects. The great majority of side effects for which statins are blamed really have nothing to do with the medication and have been shown in good studies to be just as likely to occur with sugar pills (placebos). Only a very small proportion of people will experience a true side effect of a statin, almost always mild, resolving quickly after discontinuation of the medication. If used as directed under the supervision of a doctor, statins are extremely safe, with potential benefits that greatly outweigh any risk. They are one of our most powerful tools in preventing heart attacks and strokes.