Atherosclerosis is the leading cause of death in the United States. About 50% percent of the US population has some form of dyslipidemia or elevated cholesterol. In a diabetic patient this can be a serious problem because dyslipidemia leads to fatty build–up in the arteries, creating plaque formation that contributes to stroke and heart disease. Atherosclerosis is a slow and progressive disease that can begin as early as infancy. Thus, by the time patients are diagnosed with diabetes they may already have significant fatty plaque formation in their arteries.

Patients diagnosed with diabetes should have an annual lipid/cholesterol evaluation performed via lab work. If a patient with diabetes is found to have elevated levels of cholesterol, the treatment of choice is statins. Statins like Simvastatin, Rosuvastatin, Atorvastatin, Pravastatin, etc. help lower cholesterol levels in the blood and stabilize plaque formation. Diabetic patients have higher risks of unstable plaques, meaning their arteries can have plaque build–ups that can rupture due to high blood pressure, inflammation, stress, etc. When plaques rupture, blood clots form, which can lead to a stroke or a heart attack. Statins have been able to minimize these events, which has resulted in a decrease in morbidity and mortality rates.

Statins are recommended to be taken at night because research shows they work better if taken in the evening. Patients who are on statins who develop muscle pain with weakness should notify their healthcare provider without hesitation because they may be intolerant to the medication. Statins are not indicated in women wanting to become pregnant, who are pregnant or who are breast feeding.

Diabetic patients with elevated levels of cholesterol greater than 200mg/dl, triglycerides <150m/dl, and LDL < 70mg/dl should talk to their healthcare provider regarding statin therapy.

By Sandra Trevino, N.P.