Statin side-effects 'not common'

  • Deborah Condon

Commonly used drugs which treat high cholesterol cause only a few side-effects, new research has found.

Statins are a class of drug which are often prescribed to people with high LDL cholesterol levels. LDL cholesterol is known as ‘bad' cholesterol and it can increase a person's risk of developing heart disease or suffering a heart attack or stroke.

Millions of people worldwide use statins so scientists decided to carry out a study of potential side-effects. They carried out a detailed analysis of 135 drug studies, making this the largest analysis of statin side-effects ever undertaken.

They concluded that ‘adverse events associated with statin therapy are not common'.

They did find a 9% increased risk of diabetes among users of the drugs. However they noted that a previous study had shown that 250 patients would have to be treated with statins for just one case of diabetes to be diagnosed.

"I am concerned that patients may misunderstand this small increase in risk and stop adhering to their medications," explained the study's lead author, Huseyin Naci, of the London School of Economics and Political Science and Harvard Medical School's Department of Population Medicine.

He insisted that the ability of these drugs to reduce the rate of death and hospitalisation of patients with heart disease outweighs this ‘small increase in diabetes risk'.

The analysed studies were published between 1985 and 2013 and included almost 250,000 people.

Aside from the small increase in diabetes risk, the analysis also found that statins were linked with an increase in liver enzymes. However this increased tended to be reversible and according to Mr Naci, this resulted in a very low rate of actual liver toxicity in patients taking statins.

Meanwhile, no link between statins and cancer was found.

"Although the benefits of statins clearly outweigh risks at the population level, individualising such benefits and risks is more difficult. This brings into sharp focus the importance of identifying the individuals who stand to benefit the most from statin therapy," Mr Naci added.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

For more information on heart health, see our Heart Disease Clinic here



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