What Happens If You Stop Taking Statins?

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
August 1, 2022

Statins work to lower cholesterol levels and can reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and even cardiovascular disease deaths by 25% or more

It’s important to note that if you stop taking them, these improved effects on your cholesterol will taper off after several months. 

Being prescribed a medication for the rest of your life can feel overwhelming at first, especially if you experience side effects, but the benefits typically outweigh the cons. 

What’s most important is you discuss it with your healthcare provider first before stopping the medicine to avoid harmful side effects.

In this article, I’ll go over what statins are, why you might want to stop taking them, and how to safely stop. 

Reasons You May Want To Stop Statins 

Taking a statin medication is one effective way that you can lower your cholesterol, but there may be some reasons that you would like to stop taking them.

These reasons can include serious side effects, cost, pregnancy, and other medical conditions, which I will discuss below. 

Side Effects

As with any medication, there are possible side effects that can occur.

People who take statins may experience:

While it can take some time for your body to adjust to medicine, prolonged side effects may be a reason to try a new form of treatment for your high cholesterol.

If you experience serious side effects while taking a statin, you should discuss this with your doctor to see if there may be other, better options for you.

Cost

A lifelong prescription for medication adds up. Even though there may be generic options that are cheaper than name brand options, the cost can still be too much for some. 

Additionally, not all statins have a generic option available. For example, Livalo will set you back over $350 a month.

If you are looking to stop statins due to finances, there may be other suitable medicines for you, and you should discuss those options with your doctor.

Reduced Need

In some cases where lifestyle changes, diet, and exercise have been implemented, and your cholesterol levels are sufficiently improved, statin drugs may no longer be necessary.

You should however check with your doctor before stopping any medications.

Pregnancy

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises against taking statins when pregnant.

If you are currently pregnant or are planning on becoming pregnant, speak with your doctor to discuss whether stopping statins may be right for you.

Type 2 Diabetes

Studies show that the use of statin drugs can raise your blood sugar, which may increase the risk of diabetes, especially among those who have other risk factors for diabetes or are taking higher doses of statins. 

However, the risk is usually less than other risk factors for developing  diabetes, like obesity. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine whether continued statin use is right for you.

Muscle Problems

Mild to severe muscle pain or cramping is one of the most commonly reported side effects of statins.

The pain can range from mild discomfort to more severe and present as soreness, tiredness, or weak muscles. 

You may wish to cease statin use if these muscle problems affect your daily activities and don’t decrease over time.. 

In extremely rare circumstances, statins can also cause rhabdomyolysis, a life-threatening condition where the muscle tissue breaks down and releases proteins and electrolytes into the blood causing severe kidney and liver damage. 

Symptoms of rhabdomyolysis include dark, tea-colored urine, general fatigue and malaise, and extremely sore muscles, especially in your legs.

This condition is more likely to occur when taking higher doses of statins or due to a drug interaction with other medications. If you have any signs or symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, head to the emergency room right away. 

PCSK9 Inhibitors

PCSK9 inhibitors can dramatically reduce your LDL cholesterol levels by as much as 50-60% with or without statins.

In some cases, they may be effective enough to keep your cholesterol at a healthy level without needing statins. 

Selective Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors

Cholesterol absorption inhibitors such as ezetimibe are an alternative form of treatment suitable for people who cannot take statins. 

This medicine lowers total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol.

You should take this medicine in conjunction with healthy lifestyle changes such as diet and regular exercise to lower cholesterol.

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How To Safely Stop Taking Statins

The best way to safely stop taking statins is to talk to your healthcare provider first, and then slowly ease yourself off the medication. Stopping cold turkey can lead to health complications. 

Reducing Statin Use

There are several methods for reducing your statin use.

Certain cholesterol drugs and supplements can help you lower your dose or even work effectively as an alternative. 

Always talk to your healthcare provider before adding any drug or supplement to your regimen. 

Other cholesterol drugs

Your doctor may add other cholesterol drugs to your medication regimen to effectively reduce your statin use. 

This could include ezetimibe, bile acid sequestrants, or niacin.

These other medications can help regulate your cholesterol levels while you taper off the statin.  

Adding L-carnitine supplements

L-carnitine is an amino acid derivative that is made by the human brain, liver, and kidneys. 

Studies have shown that taking L-carnitine supplements twice daily can improve the effect of statins on LDL and even prevent a rise in blood sugar as it helps the body turn fat into energy. 

You may take these to help your body adjust after you stop taking statins. 

Adding CoQ10 supplements

Studies have found that taking CoQ10 supplements can lower your blood pressure slightly.

They can help you safely stop statins and are even an alternative for some low-dose users.

What Are Statins?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 94 million adults in the United States age 20 or older have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for serious diseases, including heart disease and stroke.

As a common and effective form of treatment, your doctor may suggest statin therapy. These drugs come in oral suspension and work by blocking a liver enzyme needed to produce cholesterol and reducing the  existing cholesterol in the bloodstream.

They lower bad cholesterol, called low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and raise good cholesterol, otherwise known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL).  

When cholesterol levels are in healthy alignment, statins can also slow the formation of plaques in your arteries. 

There are two main types of statin medication: low-intensity statins (including pravastatin and simvastatin) and high-intensity statins (such as atorvastatin and rosuvastatin). 

For most people, a low-intensity statin is sufficiently effective for lowering cholesterol levels, but in some cases, your doctor may prescribe a high-intensity dose. 

Other Treatment Options

Most individuals are prescribed low-intensity statins by their healthcare providers which are effective in lowering cholesterol levels. Common statin medicines include:

  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Fluvastatin (Lescol XL)
  • Lovastatin (Altoprev)
  • Pitavastatin (Livalo)
  • Pravastatin (Pravachol)
  • Rosuvastatin (Crestor, Ezallor)
  • Simvastatin (Zocor, FloLipid)

In some cases where statin therapy is not suitable, your doctor may prescribe any of the following treatment options:

  • ACL inhibitors
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors
  • PCSK9 inhibitors
  • Sequestrants
  • Triglycerides medication
  • Natural remedies
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How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? 

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens when you stop taking statins cold turkey?
If you quit cold turkey, your body can go into shock. It is not recommended that you stop statins suddenly if you have a history of heart attack or stroke, as it can put you at a higher risk of recurrent heart attack. You should speak with your doctor before stopping the medicine under any circumstance.
Can you stop taking statins once your cholesterol is normal?
No, your cholesterol will likely return to the level it was before taking the medication a few months after stopping the medicine.
How long does it take for statins to get out of your system?
It can take a few months for your cholesterol levels to return to what they were prior to the medication. Side effects will generally disappear a few weeks after your last dose.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.

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