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Asthma Health Center

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Study: Cholesterol Drugs May Worsen Asthma

Experts Say the Findings Contradict Some Earlier Studies on the Effects of Statin Drugs
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 5, 2011 -- People with asthma may find that their breathing gets worse after they start a statin drug to lower cholesterol, a small new study shows.

Asthma experts say the finding is a surprise because some previous studies have shown that statin drugs have anti-inflammatory properties beyond their cholesterol-lowering effects that may help conditions like asthma.

So, researchers are not building a case right now for you to change your medications, but to talk to your doctor if you have asthma and high cholesterol. They also say this is a call to do more research on the topic.

Asthma Patients and Statin Drugs

The new study -- being presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in Boston -- followed 40 asthma patients who were treated at the same California clinic for one year.

Twenty patients had just begun statin medications to lower cholesterol at the start of the study. Twenty others who were not taking statins were followed for comparison. All were nonsmokers who had been diagnosed with asthma for at least five years.

Patients were excluded from the study if an asthma attack had landed them in the hospital or emergency room in the eight months leading up to the study. Other than asthma or high cholesterol, patients in the study were free of health problems, researchers say.

Doctors checked in with patients in the study every three months. They asked about symptoms and medication use, and they tested lung function.

After one year, patients taking statins performed 35% worse in a test of lung function than they did at the start of the study. Patients who were not taking statins also saw their lung function decline, but it was about 14% worse compared to how they performed at the start of the study.

Patients on statins also reported that they had used their rescue medications [inhalers] 72% more often than they had at the start of the study. Those who weren't taking statins used rescue medications 9% more than they had before.

Patients on statins also reported getting up more frequently at night because of their asthma and said they had worse symptoms during the day.

Those findings are associations. The study wasn't able to prove that statins caused the increase in breathing problems.

An alternative explanation could be that people who were prescribed statins simply had more health problems, overall, than those who weren't taking the drugs, although researchers say they tried to balance the groups in the study to make sure that was not the case.

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