Antidote: Overemphasizing the risks of statin drugs

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Antidote: Overemphasizing the risks of statin drugs
Antidote: Overemphasizing the risks of statin drugs

As most of you know, the FDA has placed a warning on our top cholesterol-lowering drugs about the risk of diabetes and cognitive problems. By the time the news media gets through with it, I am hoping that this warning doesn't end up doing more harm than good.

For one thing, there is as of yet no proof that statin drugs can cause diabetes. In fact, the 2008 ­JUPITER trial which first showed an association also showed that rosuvastatin (Crestor) reduced cardiac events in patients who didn't even have elevated cholesterols.

A 2010 study in the Lancet, which reviewed several other studies, showed a 9% increased rate of diabetes in patients who were taking statins. But these same statins were busy saving lives in patients with heart disease and at risk of heart disease.

As a physician who prescribes statins all the time, I can tell you that though I am cognizant of the possible risk of diabetes, it doesn't influence my decision to prescribe these lifesaving drugs in most cases. Medicine is an art, and a decision is made on a case-by-case basis, but in most cases my decision is weighed heavily in favor of using a statin when a patient is at risk of a heart attack or stroke.

The risk of cognitive problems or risk of memory loss is even less of a factor in my decision to prescribe a statin. For one thing, this possible side effect has only been demonstrated anecdotally. For another, even if it is real, it is reversible.

Statins may be the second-greatest drug (after antibiotics) ever created. We need to use them for their benefits, not run from them due to media-driven fear.

Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and professor of medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear
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