Elevated cholesterol can place your heart health at risk. A class of medications called statins help bring your levels into normal range by reducing cholesterol production by your liver. If you're one of the millions of Americans taking a statin drug to lower your cholesterol level, you might be surprised to learn that statins may also have a positive effect on your blood pressure.
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Why It Matters
Cholesterol helps your body function properly, but excess amounts in your bloodstream can stick to your artery walls, causing formation of blockages called plaques. The American Heart Association recommends keeping your total cholesterol level below 200 milligrams per deciliter to reduce your risk for heart disease. Dietary changes and exercise are the first lines of treatment when it comes to reducing your blood cholesterol. Your doctor may also prescribe a cholesterol-lowering statin drug to bring your levels within a healthy range.
Statins Reduce Blood Pressure
Elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol are risk factors for cardiovascular disease and often occur together. Although statins are used primarily to lower blood cholesterol, interest has grown in the medical community about potential benefits of statins for high blood pressure. Researchers from Federico University analyzed the results of 20 studies involving statin therapy to determine whether a link exists between blood pressure and statin use. The team found that statin use causes a small but consistent reduction in blood pressure. People with high blood pressure experienced the greatest reductions in pressure in response to statin therapy, according to the study report published in the April 2007 issue of the journal "Hypertension."
Mechanisms of Action
While scientists are unsure exactly how statins reduce blood pressure, they have some ideas. Statins potentially reduce blood pressure through three modes of action, according to a review published in the February 2012 issue of the journal "Archives of Medical Science." Statins may interfere with chemical signals that lead to increased blood pressure. They may also decrease production of proteins that stimulate blood vessel constriction, which contributes to hypertension. Finally, statins potentially increase production of nitric oxide within blood vessels. This chemical causes blood vessel relaxation and reduced blood pressure.
Because statin therapy causes only a small reduction in blood pressure, these medicines are not used to control high blood pressure. However, researchers continue to study how statins affect blood pressure, which may lead to the development of new medications to treat hypertension.
If you take statins to lower your blood cholesterol, you doctor will monitor you for side effects. Serious possible side effects include muscle and liver damage, memory problems and an increased risk for diabetes. Report any muscle or stomach pain to your doctor right away.