Statin Risks Outweighed by Statin Benefits
Cholesterol-Lowering Statin Drugs: A WebMD FAQ
What Are the Risks of Statin Drugs? continued...
In early 2012, the FDA told statin drugmakers to add a few of risks to the product label. These risks include memory loss, mental confusion, and a diagnosis of diabetes due to higher blood sugar.
Media reports of these risks alarmed many statin users. The Cleveland Clinic's Nissen says these risks are real, but not particularly worrisome.
The increase in blood sugar, he says, is small. But in people with already high blood sugar, this small increase may push them across the threshold of a diabetes diagnosis.
"It turns out that analyses of controlled trials show that those who cross the threshold into diabetes had exactly the same benefits of the statin," Nissen says. "So in terms of risk vs. benefit, there is no change."
As for the memory loss and confusion, Nissen says it is "rare and completely reversible." He notes that statins do reduce a person's risk of vascular dementia, which is considered to be the second leading type of dementia, behind Alzheimer's disease.
A more common risk seen with statins is muscle tenderness, which occurs in some 5% of patients. This can be extremely severe.
"A doctor should suspect a statin side effect in any patient who complains of muscle pain," Nissen says. "They can often switch to another statin. We can usually find a statin drug people can tolerate without too much difficulty."
There are several risk factors for muscle side effects linked to statins:
- Thyroid insufficiency
- Female sex
- Older age
- Liver and kidney problems
- Excessive alcohol use
- Use of other medicines that affect statin metabolism
And while most people tolerate statins quite well, other common side effects include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Flushing of the skin
- Muscle aches, tenderness, or weakness
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Abdominal cramping and/or pain
- Bloating and/or gas