Muscle-wasting alert for elderly on statins: Side-effects may outweigh benefits, say experts.

Posted by Heather Campbell on

  • Study looked at pros and cons of over 75s taking cholesterol-lowering drug
  • Found statins could be cheap way of preventing heart attacks and strokes
  • But 1 in 1,000 suffer myopathy from taking the drugs, causing muscle pain
  • Condition can lead to breakdown of muscle cells, kidney failure and death

    Statins can prevent heart attacks in the elderly – but side-effects of muscle weakness and ‘brain fog’ may outweigh the benefits, warn US researchers.

    Even a small increase in the risk of these problems could affect the independence of older people, particularly because they are more sensitive to the effects of drugs, it is claimed.

    Researchers at Oregon State University examined the pros and cons of healthy people over 75 taking cholesterol-lowering drugs as part of a general preventative health programme.


    Researchers at Oregon State University examined the pros and cons of healthy people over 75 taking cholesterol-lowering drugs as part of a general preventative health programme.

    The study found statins could be a cheap way of preventing heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular incidents in the elderly population in general.

    Assistant professor of epidemiology Michelle Odden said: ‘Statins look promising as an intervention in this population, but there are concerns about potential physical or cognitive side-effects. It’s not all good or all bad; we’re in a grey area. 

    'That’s where patient preference becomes important – people who are concerned about the side-effects should have a conversation with their healthcare provider.’

    A safety review of trials involving up to 200,000 patients is under way by Oxford University to investigate ‘minor’ side-effects.

    The most serious adverse reaction is myopathy in about one in 1,000 users, resulting in muscle pain, tenderness and weakness.

    This condition can progress to rhabdomyolysis – a complete breakdown of muscle cells that can lead to kidney failure and death. In some patients muscle weakness may persist even after stopping the drugs.

    Other known side-effects include an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, nausea and memory loss or ‘brain fog’.

    The NHS estimates that statins save 7,000 lives a year in the UK. But the central problem for patients is the uncertainty over symptoms linked to the drugs from observational studies – or ‘real life’ experiences – which suggest quality of life for some is significantly reduced.

    Warnings from the drug safety watchdog – the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency – include sleep disturbances, memory loss, sexual dysfunction and depression.

    Between eight and ten million Britons take statins, and they are the most widely prescribed drugs in the UK.

    But the number is believed to have risen since last July when NHS rationing body Nice said statins should be prescribed to 17million adults, nearly 40 per cent of the population. 

    Those who have a 10 per cent or greater ten-year risk of cardiovascular disease are being offered statins, including patients aged 80 and over. The latest study used computer modelling to estimate the cost-effectiveness, including risks and benefits, of giving statins routinely to older adults.

    The findings published in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicated that statins can help prevent cardiovascular problems.

    But if that use increased the risk of physical or cognitive side-effects by roughly 10 to 30 per cent, any benefit from statins would be offset, said the study.

    Professor Odden added: ‘We don’t know what the true risk is. But we know statin use is very sensitive to these other risks in older populations.

    ‘Physical and cognitive independence are two things that are very important to older adults.

    ‘Both conditions are so impactful that a small increase in risk may not be worth the gains in cardiovascular health.’

    Clinical trials are needed to better understand the benefits and risks of statin use in this population, she said.

     Source: DailyMail - Click here for the full article...


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