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Statins May Raise Diabetes Risk in Older Women

Study: Middle-Aged, Older Statin Users Had More Type 2 Diabetes
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Jan. 9, 2012 -- Use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may be associated with an increased risk of diabetes in middle-aged and older women, a new study suggests.

Experts say the evidence as a whole suggests that the risks are slight and that for most women who take statins, the benefits for preventing heart attack and stroke outweigh those risks.

Researchers analyzed data on nearly 154,000 women followed for an average of seven years.

Women who reported taking a statin such as Lipitor, Pravachol, Zocor, or other statin drugs were almost 50% more likely to report developing type 2 diabetes than women who did not take statins, according to study researcher Yunsheng Ma, MD, PhD, MPH, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Statin Users Report More Diabetes

The study included 153,840 postmenopausal women with an average age at enrollment of 63. Most were followed for about seven years. 

None of the women had diabetes when they were included in the study, but 10,242 cases of self-reported diabetes were found by the end of follow-up.

After taking into account older age, obesity, lack of physical activity, and other risk factors for diabetes, statin use was associated with an almost 50% chance of developing the disease.

Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes.

In fact, the American Diabetes Association recommends that in addition to lifestyle changes, all people with diabetes take a statin for cholesterol at a certain level whether or not they have heart disease.

Study researcher Annie L. Culver tells WebMD that recommendations should not change, but clinicians should also stress the importance of lifestyle in lowering heart attack and stroke risk.

“There is a tendency to believe that drugs are the only answer, when it is clear that eating well, exercising, and making other lifestyle changes are hugely important for lowering diabetes and cardiovascular risk,” Culver says.

New York University cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, MD, who specializes in treating women with heart disease, agrees that lifestyle is often overlooked when patients are placed on statins.

“Sometimes when people are on statins they think it is a license to eat anything they want,” she says. “This is certainly not the case, especially after menopause when women seem to have a harder time metabolizing sugar. That’s why I tell my patients to watch out for starches and sugar.”

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Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

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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