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Statin Drugs May Cut Risk of Gallstones

Study Shows Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Reduce Risk of Gallstones That Lead to Gallbladder Removal
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

statins_cut_gallstone_risk_1.jpg

Nov. 11, 2009 -- A popular class of cholesterol-lowering medications appears to reduce the risk for gallstones that ultimately require surgery.

Researchers reporting in this week's issue of TheJournal of the American Medical Association have found that adults who take a statin medication for at least one year are less likely to develop gallstones that result in having the gallbladder removed.  

Most gallstones are made from cholesterol deposits that occur in bile, a fluid that helps break down fats. Bile is stored in the gallbladder and flows through tubes, called ducts, to the small intestine.

Bile naturally contains some cholesterol. But if there is too much cholesterol in bile, gallstones can form. These stones can sometimes block the normal flow of bile out of the gallbladder, leading to severe cramping pain called colic and other gastrointestinal tract symptoms.

Treatment often involves surgery to remove the gallbladder, a procedure called a cholecystectomy. Every year in the U.S., doctors perform more than 700,000 such surgeries.

"Our findings [that statins may lower the risk of cholesterol gallstones] may be of clinical relevance given that gallstone disease represents a major burden for health care systems," Michael Bodmer, MD, MS, of University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland, and colleagues say in a news release.

For the study, the researchers examined thousands of medical records from a U.K. database for the years 1994-2008, noting how many people took statins and how many had gallstone disease followed by having their gallbladder removed. About 2,400 patients with a history of gallstone disease and surgery had a history of taking statins.  Researchers compared those patients to nearly 8,900 patients of similar age, sex, and health taking statins but who had no history of gallstones or cholecystectomy.

Decreased risk of cholesterol-type gallstones that required surgery was linked to one to 1.5 years of statin treatment. No association was seen with shorter-term use, and the findings were similar for all statins. The benefit appeared to be the same for all age and gender groups, even after adjusting for other important risk factors for gallstone disease such as being overweight or using estrogen. 

"This large observational study provides evidence that patients with long-term statin use have a reduced risk of gallstone disease followed by cholecystectomy compared with patients without statin use," the researchers write.

The dose of the statin appeared to also play a role. Patients who took high-dose statins tended to have a lower risk of gallstone disease than those who took lower doses.

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Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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