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Low-dose statins: definition, examples, uses

High cholesterol is defined as a total cholesterol level greater than 200 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood (mg/dL). Between 2018 and 2020, nearly 86 million adults aged 20 and over suffered from high cholesterol.

The two main types of cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (considered bad cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (considered good cholesterol).

Statins are a class of drugs commonly used to treat high cholesterol. They are classified according to their strength and their ability to reduce LDL cholesterol.

Low-dose statins can significantly lower LDL, while low-dose statins also significantly lower LDL.

Low-dose statins reduce the risk of complications such as heart attack, stroke, and death in older people who do not have a history of heart disease but are at risk of developing it.

This article will provide an overview of low-dose statins, explaining the conditions they treat, when they should be used, their proven effectiveness, potential side effects, and more.

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What are statins?

Statins work by slowing and reducing the liver’s production of cholesterol, resulting in lower LDL. Statins also reduce cardiovascular risks.

Low-dose statins include:

  • Zocor (simvastatin): 10 mg
  • Generic Pravastatin: 10 to 20 mg
  • Generic Lovastatin: 20 mg
  • Lescol XL (fluvastatin): 20 to 40 mg
  • Livalo (pitavastatin): 1 mg

Low-dose statins are needed to manage cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and death, prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, and provide treatment alternatives for people who may be sensitive or unable to tolerate higher doses of statins.

In 2016, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended the use of low-dose statins.

It recommends using low-dose or moderate-dose statins as treatment in adults ages 40 to 75 who have not had a heart attack or stroke but have at least one risk factor cardiovascular disease (hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, high blood pressure). , or smoking) and a calculated risk of at least 7.5% of developing heart disease in the next 10 years.

Benefits of low-dose statins

Low-dose statins help manage cholesterol by reducing LDL and increasing HDL. Statins are the most effective treatment option for lowering cholesterol.

In addition, they help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol levels. This reduces the amount of fat accumulated in the arteries.

Research suggests that there may be some non-cholesterol benefits associated with statin use, such as improved outcomes related to atrial fibrillation (A-fib) after heart surgery, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and pneumonia.

Researchers are conducting trials to determine whether statins can prevent dementia in older people.


Clinical research supports the benefits of low-dose statins.

A 10-year study investigated the relationship between age and LDL-lowering statins.

The study concluded that low-to-moderate intensity statin use resulted in a more significant reduction in LDL in older adults compared to younger individuals.

Conditions treated with low-dose statins

High LDL levels correlate with a higher risk of plaque buildup in the arteries. Low-dose statins can prevent a primary or secondary cardiac event such as heart attack and stroke by lowering LDL levels.

In addition to lowering cholesterol, statins decrease vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels), manage plaque buildup, and prevent blood clots.

Through various pathways, statins may even lower blood pressure, especially in people with high blood pressure who are on stable blood pressure medication.

Statins are currently only approved to treat cholesterol and prevent heart disease.

Nonetheless, more research is needed to determine whether other conditions can be treated with low-dose statins.

Some healthcare providers may use low-dose statins off-label to treat certain inflammatory and neurological conditions.

Management of low-dose statin therapy

Since there are no symptoms associated with high cholesterol, regular checkups and blood tests can help proactively identify the condition.

However, your doctor can check your cholesterol level with a blood test called a lipid panel.

Cholesterol monitoring should begin at age 9 and continue every four to six years in healthy people without complications. Your medical history will determine whether you need to check your cholesterol levels more frequently.

Older adults and people with risk factors such as heart disease and diabetes should have their cholesterol levels checked more often.

Routine monitoring is essential because it detects high cholesterol levels, gives you time to intervene and treat if necessary, and helps health care providers determine if you are at high risk of developing other conditions.

Role of diet and exercise

Eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising are important practices that can improve your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.

It is recommended to add heart-healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and seafood.

Additionally, finding ways to become more active and increase physical activity will play an important role in reducing the severity of heart disease.

Side effects and safety

Statin treatment is safe and low-dose statins are generally well tolerated.

Low-dose statins are recommended when people experience side effects from higher doses of statins.

The most common side effect associated with low-dose statin use is muscle pain.

Common side effects

Some common side effects associated with low-dose statin use include:

Serious side effects

A rare but serious side effect associated with low-dose statin use is rhabdomyolysis, which causes painful breakdown of muscle and often results in dehydration and requires immediate discontinuation of statin therapy.

Additionally, long-term liver and kidney dysfunction may occur with high doses of statins.

Safety for populations at risk

Statins should not be used in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Statins are in pregnancy category X, meaning they have shown evidence of risk in humans in clinical trials. The use of statins can be harmful and should be avoided during pregnancy because the risks of using this medication outweigh the benefits.

This warning also applies to people who are breastfeeding.

Low-dose statins are safe and approved for use in children. However, lifestyle management should generally be considered before prescribing.

Low-dose statins are safe for older adults, but individual risk must be assessed to determine if there is a benefit.

Low-dose statins are often better tolerated by older adults (usually 65 years and older), but should be used with caution in any age group.


Low-dose statins are distinguished by their dose and their lipid-lowering effect. Low-dose and low-dose statins can significantly lower LDL.

Low-dose statins are used to help manage cholesterol and improve long-term cardiac outcomes. They also provide treatment options for people who may not be able to tolerate higher doses of statins.

Low-dose statins are specifically recommended for adults ages 40 to 75 who are at risk of heart attack or stroke. Zocor (simvastatin), generic pravastatin, and generic lovastatin are commonly used low-dose statins.

Statins, regardless of dose, should be avoided in pregnant or breastfeeding women due to fetal risk.

If you have questions about your cholesterol levels or whether you should take a low-dose statin, discuss your treatment options with your healthcare professional.

Frequently asked questions

  • How to store low-dose orally administered statins?

    Low-dose statins should be stored in a safe, dry place at room temperature (68 to 77 degrees F). Do not store low-dose statins in a place susceptible to high levels of heat or humidity, such as a bathroom.

    Finally, if applicable, keep all medications out of reach of children and pets.

  • Can statins cause memory loss or diabetes?

    There is no clear evidence to support the claim that statins cause memory loss. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has updated statin labels to include a warning that memory loss and confusion have been reported with statin use.

    In comparison, research suggests that the risk of statins causing diabetes is low and primarily associated with high-dose statins. Thus, the benefits of low-dose statin therapy far outweigh the perceived risks in people with diabetes.

  • How quickly should I expect my low-dose statin to start working?

    Cholesterol levels should improve within two months of starting a statin or increasing the dose.

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