The side effects of statins are exaggerated and much less common than thought, according to the largest study of its kind.
Millions of people take cholesterol-lowering pills every day to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke.
Up to half of patients stop taking the drug, reduce the dose, or take it irregularly because of suspected side effects, which can include muscle pain, digestive problems, and headaches.
Researchers in Poland, however, say that only 6% of statin users will actually develop “statin intolerance.”
Prof. Maciej Banach, a cardiologist at the Medical University of Lodz, said his team’s results, based on a review of 170 existing studies involving 4 million people, show that statins “can be used safely in most patients.”
He said it was “critical for lowering cholesterol levels and preventing heart and blood vessel disease and death.”
Statins (pictured) work by limiting the production of “bad cholesterol” – low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – which can harden and narrow arteries and increase the risk of heart disease. Previous research has shown that the “gold standard” cholesterol-lowering drug prevents one heart attack or stroke for every 50 people who take it for five years.
Statins work by limiting the production of “bad” cholesterol – low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – which can harden and narrow arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.
Research has shown time and time again that a drug with a monthly supply of less than £5 saves lives.
Charities claim that about 8 million Britons and 35 million Americans are prescribed medicines to be taken daily.
WHAT ARE STATINS?
Statins are a group of medications that can help lower the level of “bad cholesterol” in the blood.
Having too much of this type of cholesterol, called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, can lead to thickening of the arteries and heart disease.
Statins work by stopping the liver from producing that much LDL.
Previous studies have shown that the drug prevents one heart attack or stroke for every 50 people who take it for five years.
The drug is available in the form of tablets that are taken once a day.
Most people have to take them for life, as stopping them will cause their cholesterol levels to return to high levels within a few weeks.
Some people experience side effects from the medication, including diarrhea, headache, or nausea.
People are usually advised to make lifestyle changes to lower their cholesterol, such as improving diet and exercise habits, limiting alcohol intake, and quitting smoking, before they are prescribed statins.
Doctors believe that tens of thousands of people die every year because they refuse life-saving pills, often due to side effects.
The researchers reviewed 176 studies on statin intolerance rates, including a total of 4.1 million patients.
The participants were on average 60 years old and 40 percent of them were women.
After following the patients for about a year and a half, the researchers found that 9.1% of patients showed signs of statin intolerance — where people were forced to stop taking the drug because of its side effects.
But using other criteria to measure statin intolerance has shown that the problem is even rarer.
Only 6.7% of participants reached the threshold in the International Lipid Expert Group’s definition of inability to tolerate a dose of the drug.
Another definition by the National Lipid Association, which defines intolerance as “any side effect” that causes patients to stop taking medication, found that 7% of people are intolerant.
But that figure was only 5.9%, as defined by the European Atherosclerosis Society, which defines statin intolerance as people experiencing muscle side effects.
People over 65, obese women, black or Asian adults are more likely to experience side effects, according to a study published in the European Heart Journal.
It has also been found that taking a higher dose of the drug increases the risk.
The researchers said it is “critical” for healthcare professionals to know which groups are at risk from statins, so other treatments, such as a lower dosage or other drugs, could be considered.
Professor Banach said: “I believe that the size of our study, the largest study in the world on this subject, means that we can definitively and effectively answer the question of the true prevalence of statin intolerance.
“Our results mean we have to evaluate patients’ symptoms very carefully, first, to see if the symptoms are indeed caused by the statins.”
He said doctors should also evaluate whether the side effects perceived by the patient may be the result of their “perception that statins are harmful.”
According to Prof. Banach, this so-called “nocebo or drucebo” effect may be responsible for more than 50% of all symptoms, rather than the drug itself.
Prof Banach added: “These results clearly show that patients need not be afraid of statin therapy as it is very well tolerated at a whopping 93 percent, which is similar or even better than other cardiac drugs, including those for lowering blood pressure. and blood clotting or blockage of blood vessels.
“Moreover, patients should know that statins can prolong their lives, and in cases where side effects occur, we have enough knowledge to effectively manage them.
“The most important message for patients as a result of this study is that they should continue taking statins as prescribed and discuss any side effects with their doctor, rather than stop taking the medication.”