Lipitor is one of a family of drugs that lower cholesterol. These drugs are called statins. Other common statins include Pravachol, Mevacor, and Crestor. Most women who are in their childbearing years do not need to be on a statin drug. However, some women do have high cholesterol during childbearing years.
Cholesterol naturally goes up during pregnancy. In fact, it may increase by as much as 25 to 50 percent. If you already have borderline high cholesterol or high cholesterol, you would think controlling cholesterol during your pregnancy would be important during pregnancy. So, is there a role for statin drugs during pregnancy? The answer is no, or at least not yet.
What Are Statins and Who Needs Them?
High cholesterol increases your risk for coronary heart disease and a heart attack. A diet high in cholesterol can increase your cholesterol level, but most of the cholesterol in your blood comes from your liver. Your body makes cholesterol because your cells need it to function.
Statins work in two ways. They reduce the amount of cholesterol made in your liver and they help your body reabsorb bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) that causes plaques to build up in your arteries. These actions can help reduce heart attacks and strokes.
Doctor may decide to put someone on a statin if they have high overall cholesterol, especially high LDL cholesterol. Even if cholesterol is good, a doctor may decide to start someone on a statin if there are other risk factors for heart disease. These include having a family history of heart attack at an early age, having high blood pressure, or having diabetes.
Most young women do not have risk factors or cholesterol numbers that require a statin. One exception is a woman born with an inherited disease called hypercholesterolemia. A woman with this disease will have very high levels of LDL because her liver is not able to remove excess LDL cholesterol.
Why Statins Are Not Used During Pregnancy
Even if you are on a statin because of your cholesterol numbers or your risk factors, your doctor will recommend coming off the statin before you try to get pregnant. If you are on a statin, and you become pregnant unexpectedly, you will come off the statin. This even applies to women with hypercholesterolemia.Here is why:
- A few studies suggest that statin drugs can cause skeletal defects in a developing baby if they are taken during the first trimester. Most studies have not found this link, but there may be some small risk.
- Babies need cholesterol to grow. Cholesterol is an important building block for your baby’s cells. That’s why cholesterol goes up during pregnancy. Researchers feel that lowering cholesterol during pregnancy might be harmful.
- The buildup of plaque in arteries takes time. Stopping a statin for pregnancy is not harmful. Stopping treatment for the time it takes to get through pregnancy and breastfeeding does not change the long-term process of plaque buildup enough to risk a possible birth defect or deprivation of cholesterol for a growing baby.
There are no studies that show statins are unsafe during breastfeeding. But statins do pass through breast milk. The same reasoning applies to breastfeeding as pregnancy. There is no danger from holding off the statin, so why take any risk. Men taking a statin do not pose any risk to their partner’s pregnancy. There is no evidence that a man should stop taking a statin before his partner becomes pregnant or during his partner’s pregnancy.
One possible exception to the statin during pregnancy discussion is preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a dangerous condition that some women get during pregnancy. Preeclampsia causes a woman’s blood pressure to rise to dangerous levels for her and for her baby.
Some research shows that statin drugs taken after the first trimester may help prevent preeclampsia. If future and ongoing studies support these studies, there may be a situation where the known risk of preeclampsia outweighs the possible risk of taking a statin during pregnancy.
For now, if you are on a statin, and you plan to become pregnant, let your doctor know. If you are on a statin, and you become pregnant, let your doctor know. The safe thing to do is stop the statin until after pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Don’t forget that there are important steps you can take to prevent high cholesterol and LDL cholesterol without medication. These include:
- Getting regular exercise
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Not smoking
- Eating a diet low in saturated fats and high in fruits vegetables and whole grains