Statins Don’t Work in Women (And Other Myths)

We dispel some common fallacies about world’s most popular cardiovascular drugs

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Myth: Statins cause cancer

Absolutely untrue.

Myth: Statins cause side effects in most people

Any medicine can cause side effects. But statins are among our safest medicines, and they rarely cause irreversible side effects. Muscle aches and pains are the most common complaints among statin users. If you take a statin and experience this problem, don’t be discouraged. We can frequently work around it by changing to a different statin or adjusting the dosing schedule.

Recent media attention has focused on the link between statins and diabetes. Statins do cause a slight increase in the risk of developing diabetes. But this risk is extremely small and is more than offset by the medicines’ benefits.

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The most serious side effect of statins is the breakdown of muscle tissue, a disorder known as rhabodmyolysis.  Fortunately, this side effect is rare, occurring in about 1 of every 10,000 patients treated with the drugs. When it does occur, however, the consequences can be severe. Patients on statins should immediately report serious muscle pain or weakness, particularly if associated with dark, tea-colored urine. Rapid treatment aids recovery. This complication is more common in those with an underactive thyroid—if you have thyroid problems, make sure that you tell your cardiologist before starting a statin.

By the way, those annual liver blood tests in statin patients are probably unnecessary. There has never been a case of serious liver damage attributable solely to a statin.

Myth: Statins are too expensive

Not any more. Several statins are now available in generic form. In many patients, a year’s worth of statins costs only about $50.

Myth: Statins don’t help people who do not have documented cardiovascular disease

Few argue with a statin prescription for the person who has suffered a heart attack or stroke or who has had a stent placed or bypass surgery. But what about the person who does not have known cardiovascular disease? Do statins help these people? Some critics answer no. The real answer is a qualified yes: statins reduce the risks of heart attack in stroke in some people without cardiovascular disease.

The trick is identifying these people. In general, we recommend statin use in those with elevated LDL cholesterol who are at high risk of developing coronary heart disease. If your LDL cholesterol is 130 or greater and you have two or more risk factors for coronary heart disease, you and your doctor should talk about statins. The risk factors we are talking about include cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and family history of early heart disease (before age 55 in men or 65 in women). In addition, most diabetics should consider statin use.

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Myth: When people take statins, they are free to follow an unhealthy lifestyle

A heart-healthy lifestyle is the foundation of heart disease prevention and cholesterol management. The concern is that people will eat poorly, stop exercising and keep smoking, believing that a statin pill each night will erase these missteps.

This choice is up to you. Prove that this statement is a myth. Choose wisely!

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