More Docs Wonder If Statins Are Worth the Risks
Debate Over Statins Heating Up
Their review found statins decrease energy and fitness, and increase fatigue and sleep problems. They also found that statins may increase the risk of muscle aches and pains, kidney and liver problems, bleeding in the brain, and type 2 diabetes.
“If people understood how relatively modest the benefits of statins are, they might be much more conservative about taking them, especially if they’re experiencing an adverse effect, and we don’t think the salesmanship has included an adequate emphasis on the importance of not harming people,” Perry says.
Most experts, including Chand, are supporters of statins when they are given to people to help prevent a second heart attack or stroke. In those cases, he believes that the benefits of the drug usually outweigh their risks.
The current debate instead focuses on using statins for patients like Chand: people between the ages of 60 and 75 without known heart disease. They have certain risk factors -- age, smoking, higher cholesterol, or diabetes, for example -- that raise their chance of having a heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years.
Studies have shown that taking statins can lower those risks in large groups of people, but the impact on a person's individual risk is much smaller.
At the same time, researchers are still in the dark about whether the side effects people have are truly caused by the medications, or if they're related to other things, like lifestyle choices, age, or even patient expectations.
“The thing that struck me about the statin data is that when you look at it, the statistics are pretty sobering,” says John Mandrola, MD, a cardiologist in Louisville, K.Y., who writes about the challenges of treating patients with heart disease. His recent post about taking a patient off her statin doubled the traffic to his blog.
“If there is a benefit, it’s a small benefit. And I just think most patients don’t really understand. They get told their cholesterol is high and ‘You should take this drug,’” he says.
After doing his own review of the research, Mandrola concluded that for lower-risk patients, statins raise the risk of diabetes in about the same number of people who might avoid a first heart attack or stroke on the drugs. And they don’t lower a person’s overall risk of an early death.
What's more, studies show 140 low-risk people would need to take statins daily for 5 years to prevent just one heart attack or stroke.
That was enough to convince him to take his patient, who was suffering from muscle and joint pains, off the medication.