July 17, 2013
Despite Sometimes Bad Press, Statins Have Few Side Effects

London—Adverse events associated with statins get a lot of notice because their use is so widespread, but that doesn’t mean the cholesterol-lowering drugs actually cause a lot of side effects, according to a new meta-analysis.

The research, published by the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, reviewed data from 135 previous drug studies to evaluate the safety of the seven statins on the market. Study authors conclude that “as a class, adverse events associated with statin therapy are not common.”

Simvastatin and pravastatin, marketed as Zocor and Pravachol, respectively, were found to have the best safety profile in the class, especially at low to moderate doses. The authors noted the 9% increased risk of diabetes among statin users, but also pointed out that 250 patients would need to be treated with a statin for one additional case of diabetes to be diagnosed.

“I am concerned that patients may misunderstand this small increase in risk and stop adhering to their medications," said lead author Huseyin Naci, MHS, a doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science and research fellow at Harvard Medical School's Department of Population Medicine. Naci added that the proven ability of statins to significantly cut the rate of death and hospitalization in patients with heart disease outweighs the "small increase in diabetes risk.”

Trials reviewed by researchers were published between 1985 and early 2013 and included almost 250,000 patients. Those studies, which lasted on average slightly longer than a year, either compared statins to each other or to a placebo.

While the review found no increased risk of cancer in statin users, the drugs were associated with an increase in liver enzymes, which Naci said is typically reversible and resulted in a very low rate of actual liver toxicity in patients on the drugs.

“Although the benefits of statins clearly outweigh risks at the population level, individualizing such benefits and risks is more difficult,” he said. “This brings into sharp focus the importance of identifying the individuals who stand to benefit the most from statin therapy.”

U.S. Pharmacist Social Connect