Statins are prescribed in cases where diet and exercise are not enough to lower your cholesterol levels. Although you might think of high cholesterol as something to worry about as you get older, you can have high cholesterol levels at a very young age, too -– even in your 20s, 30s, and 40s, which is commonly around the time many women begin having children. Having high cholesterol levels could mean that you could be placed on cholesterol-lowering medication like a statin.
There are currently seven statins on the U.S. market:
- Crestor (rosuvastatin)
- Lescol (fluvastatin)
- Lipitor (atorvastatin)
- Livalo (pitavastatin)
- Mevacor (lovastatin)
- Pravachol (pravastatin)
- Zocor (simvastatin)
All statins carry a pregnancy category X, which means that animal and/or human studies have shown a possible risk of developing birth defects when taking the drug. Therefore, medications in this category should not be taken if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, unless the benefits of taking the medication outweigh the harm the drug may do to the baby. There have not been a lot of studies examining the effects of statins on pregnant women, and the studies that do exist suggest that there is a slight possibility that taking statins during pregnancy may affect the development of your child.
Pregnancy and Statins: The Research
Animal studies have not been conclusive. Rabbits and rats given some statins have shown developmental abnormalities, such as fused vertebrae, fused ribs, and smaller pup size. However, not all animals suffered from these defects. Human studies have also not been conclusive. While birth defects, such as heart defects, cleft palate, neural tube defects, and other structural abnormalities occurred, they were still considered rare. Additionally, most of the mothers in these studies had other pre-existing conditions (diabetes, obesity) or were taking more than one prescription or over-the-counter drug, which could also play a role in these defects. According to one statin manufacturer, the incidence of developing these defects was almost 4%.
So, if you are taking a statin and are planning to become pregnant, or have just found out that you are pregnant, you should discuss this with your healthcare provider, so that he or she can decide whether or not the benefits of taking the statin outweigh the possible risks to your baby.
Kazmin A, Garcia-Bournissen F, Koren G. Risks of statin use during pregnancy: a systematic review. J Obstet Gynaecol Can 2007;29:906-908.
Ofori B, Rey E, Berard A. Risk of congenital anomalies in pregnant users of statin drugs. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2007;64:496-509.
Petersen EE, Mitchell AA, Carey JC et al. Maternal exposure to statins and risk for birth defects: a case series approach. Am J Med Genet 2008;146A:2701-2705.