Antidote: simvastatinThe problem with a media-megaphoned report about a drug's potential side effect is that it too easily balloons into a fear-driven avoidance of a life-saving group of drugs. Statins, which lower bad cholesterol by blocking its production in the liver, are a proven life saver, cutting down substantially on the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The FDA first announced that the highest dose of simvastatin, 80 mg, was associated with a higher risk of muscle inflammation and damage back in March 2010, and has just announced that it should not be used in new patients or those already taking a lower dose of the drug. This recommendation is based on the fact that an FDA review of a major study (SEARCH trial) found that the highest dose of simvastatin caused a 1% risk of myopathy, up from 0.02 % from the 20 mg dose.
Granted, this is enough of a reason to avoid the 80 mg dose, but it has no scientific bearing on the lower doses. I only hope that this doesn't translate into fear of statins in general.
Myopathy is a known rare side effect of this class of drugs, but well worth the risk in almost all cases. The 80 mg dose of simvastatin is about 15% of the market share, valued at about $70 million per year. It is a very useful drug because it is much cheaper than the brand name drugs. The generic version of Lipitor, atorvastatin, is not yet available.
Panicking and running away from this useful drug or statins in general because of media-generated hype is a very bad idea.
Marc Siegel MD is an associate professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center. He is the author of The Inner Pulse, Unlocking the Secret Code of Sickness and Health