Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Statins shouldn't be taken by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as there's no firm evidence on whether it's safe to do so.
Contact your GP for advice if you become pregnant while taking statins.
People at an increased risk of side effects
Statins should be taken with caution if you're at an increased risk of developing a rare side effect called myopathy, which is where the tissues of your muscles become damaged and painful. Severe myopathy (rhabdomyolysis) can lead to kidney damage.
Things that can increase this risk include:
- being over 70 years old
- having a history of liver disease
- regularly drinking large quantities of alcohol
- having a history of muscle-related side effects when taking a statin or fibrate (another type of medicine for high cholesterol)
- having a family history of myopathy or rhabdomyolysis
If one or more of these apply to you, you may need to be frequently monitored to check for complications. A lower dose of statin may also be recommended.
If you have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), treatment may be delayed until this problem is treated. This is because having an underactive thyroid can lead to an increased cholesterol level, and treating hypothyroidism may cause your cholesterol level to decrease, without the need for statins. Statins are also more likely to cause muscle damage in people with an underactive thyroid.
Read more about the side effects of statins.
Statins can react unpredictably with certain other substances (known as "interacting"), potentially increasing the risk of serious side effects, such as muscle damage.
Medications that can interact with some types of statin include:
- certain antibiotics and antifungals
- certain HIV medications
- warfarin – a medication commonly used to prevent blood clots
- ciclosporin – a medication that suppresses the immune system and is used to treat a wide range of conditions, including psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis
- danazol – a synthetic hormone medication used to treat conditions such as endometriosis
- verapamil and diltiazem – types of medication called calcium channel blockers, which are used to treat various conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels
- amiodarone – a medication sometimes used to treat irregular heartbeats
- fibrates – medications that, like statins, help reduce cholesterol levels in the blood
If you're taking statins and need to take one of these medications, your doctor may prescribe an alternative statin or prescribe your current statin at a lower dosage. In some cases, they may recommend that you temporarily stop taking your statin.
Food and alcohol
Grapefruit juice can affect some statins and increase your risk of side effects. Your doctor may advise you to avoid it completely or only consume small quantities.
Your doctor will also ask you how much alcohol you drink before prescribing statins. People who regularly drink large amounts of alcohol are at increased risk of getting more serious side effects.
If you're prescribed a statin, you may be able to continue drinking alcohol. However, you shouldn't drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week.
Researching your medication
For full details of cautions and interactions relevant to your specific medication, check the patient information leaflet that comes with it.
If in doubt, contact your GP or pharmacist for advice.