May and her team found that patients who took their statins as prescribed at least 80 percent of the time reduced their risk of having a heart attack or stroke by nearly 50 percent.
“People do worse when they don’t take their medication,” she said. “The more patients adhered to their statin regimen, the better that they did. So, if you want to increase your chances of not having another cardiovascular event, then taking the medicine is really important and can help.”
The study also found that while 25 percent of people never filled their statin prescription in the first place, a similar number of people didn’t bother to fill their second one.
“We really don’t know why people weren’t taking them, mainly because we had no contact with the patients, we didn’t talk to them,” May said. “But we don’t think cost was really an issue because they all had health insurance and statins are pretty inexpensive — I think it’s 5 or 10 dollars for a three-month supply.”
No drug comes without potential side effects, but the most frequent one experienced with statins is reasonably minor compared to the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
“Myopathy, which is muscle weakness, is the most frequently reported complaint, and severe myopathy (rhabdomyolysis) only occurs in about 1 in 10,000 patients,” Dr. Victoria Shin, a cardiologist with Torrance Memorial Medical Center in California, told Healthline.
In the American Heart Association’s (AHA) first scientific specifically reviewing health issues associated with statin use, the AHA states that, in double-blind randomized controlled trials “there is little, if any difference (at most 1 percent) in the incidence of muscle symptoms between the statin and placebo.”
However, a recent has found that statins can increase the risk of developing diabetes.
Researchers found statin use was associated with a 9 to 13 percent increased risk of new-onset diabetes.
They concluded that statin users, particularly people who have prediabetes or are at high risk, should be monitored carefully while using these drugs.
“Moderate-intensity and high-intensity statins increase relative risk for diagnosed diabetes by about 10 and 20 percent, respectively. This will affect roughly 1 in 100 statin users during five years of statin use. Whether this effect is reversible is still unclear,” said Shin.
Statins are the “gold standard” for treating high cholesterol.
They’re a powerful class of medication proven to save the lives of people living with or having a high risk of heart attack or stroke.
May emphasized that statin drugs are the only cholesterol-lowering drugs that have been shown to significantly and reliably reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death in high-risk patients.
In a 2016 article, researchers put statin side effects into perspective.
The authors wrote: “[E]xaggerated claims about side-effect rates with statin therapy may be responsible for its underuse among individuals at increased risk of cardiovascular events. For, whereas the rare cases of myopathy [muscle pain] and any muscle-related symptoms that are attributed to statin therapy generally resolve rapidly when treatment is stopped, the heart attacks or strokes that may occur if statin therapy is stopped unnecessarily can be devastating.”
“Statins are very safe in the majority of patients,” Shin emphasized. “And the benefits outweigh the risks in patients with known cardiovascular disease as well as those with high cholesterol as primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”
A recent study finds that only 6 percent of people prescribed statins are taking them.
Researchers have no idea why.
Statins do come with side effects, the most frequent being muscle weakness, although it affects a very small percent of people taking them.
However, a recent study did find a moderately increased risk of developing diabetes.
Experts say the benefits of statins far outweigh any risks. Currently, statins are the only medication proven to save the lives of people living with or having a high risk of heart attack or stroke.