The People's Pharmacy reported last evening on the results of a new study on the effects of statin drugs, published in BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal, on March 19, 2013. The study participants included over 2 million patients from seven Canadian provinces, England and the United States, who were taking statin drugs between 1997 and 2008. More than 600,00 of the study participants took statins that were classified as high dose or high potency.
In 1987, the FDA approved lovastatin, whose brand name was Mevacor. Considered a cholesterol lowering breakthrough, Mevacor was thought to bring about the prevention of heart disease without the complications experienced with earlier drugs that lowered cholesterol. Merck, Mevacor's manufacturer, partnered with the National Cholesterol Education Program and the American Heart Association and was able to persuade both doctors and patients alike that the drug was the answer for greatly reducing heart disease.
Since then, many side effects have been experienced by patients taking Mevacor, as well as other similar cholesterol reducing drugs; more significant and more common than rhabdomyolysis, a rare side effect which causes severe muscle breakdown. The new study shows that when patients took 'high dose' or 'high potency' statin drugs, the side effects were significant and damaging.
Definition of high dose or high potency drugs:
Atorvastatin (Lipitor) 20 mg or more
Simvistatin (Zocor) 40 mg or more
Rosuvastatin (Crestor) 10 mg or more
Researchers found that in comparison to patients who took no statins, lower doses or niacin, they experienced an increased risk for kidney failure or injury, detected within the first 4 months of use. These patients had a 34 percent higher risk factor for hospitalization due to acute kidney injury.
Additional serious statin side effects that have been reported since their approval include, but are not limited to, headache, muscle aches and spasms experienced everywhere or anywhere in the body, digestive upsets including abdominal pain, elevated blood glucose, liver damage, liver failure, pancreatitis, memory problems and sexual dysfunction.
If you are currently taking any statin drug, don't stop. Talk to your health professional about statin risks and side effects, and partner with him or her in a plan to lower cholesterol using statins with lower dosages. It may be appropriate to continue using high dosage or high potency statins. Whatever the dosage, be sure to follow your healthcare professional's regular schedule for testing to monitor kidney function, as well as detect any side effects that might present themselves down the line. Suggested reading is listed that explores both the pros and cons of statin use.