Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes
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Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol is a waxy substance that clings to the inside of your artery walls, thereby hiking your risk of heart disease. Statins are therefore a welcome intervention because they interrupt this process. However, taking statins can produce unwanted effects in ways you might not expect.
Statins usually have to be taken for life because quitting can be highly dangerous.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Doctor Paula Oliveira of Loxa Beauty, spoke about the side effects that can arise from “suddenly” stopping statins.
According to the doc, the most “serious” side effect is rhabdomyolysis – a condition accompanied by muscle pain due to muscle injury. It can also cause muscle tissue breakdown.
Myalgia – the “most common” side effect – involves muscle and joint pain, the doc explained.
Abruptly stopping statins can also jumpstart the mechanisms that cause diabetes – another precursor to heart disease, Doctor Oliveira warned.
How serious are they?
“The side effects can result in life threatening complications, such as kidney failure and death in worse cases,” warned the doc.
She continued: “If your kidney fails to flush out unwanted products like urine from the body, they can become toxic and harmful to an individual’s health.”
What’s driving these side effects?
Doctor Oliveira said: “Immediate stopping of statins put the body in shock, thus the side effects.”
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Research backs up these claims. In a large study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, researchers found that withdrawal of statins from elderly people receiving a variety of other drugs was linked to a higher risk of hospital admission for heart failure and any cardiovascular outcome, as well as death from any cause.
Statins are “life-saving” drugs and, according to the findings of the study, “the discontinuation of this therapy has significant effects”, said lead study author Federico Rea, PhD, a research fellow in the Department of Statistics and Quantitative Methods at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy.
The research examined almost 30,000 patients 65 years of age and older on multiple medications, often referred to as “polypharmacy”, who were receiving treatment with statins, as well as blood pressure-lowering, antidiabetic, and antiplatelet agents.
Discontinuing statins was associated with a significantly increased risk of hospital admission for heart failure of about 24 percent, other cardiovascular outcomes by 14 percent, and death from any cause by 15 percent.
Study investigators said more attention is needed by all health care providers caring for elderly patients.
“We hope that future studies can shed light on the best way to balance the undeniable benefit of [statins] and the harms, especially among the elderly exposed to polypharmacy.”
“Older patients have a higher absolute risk of dying, and withdrawing proven therapy shown to reduce risk of coronary/stroke events in randomized controlled trials would be expected to result in more cardiovascular events,” added Professor Rea.
While polypharmacy is a concern in the elderly, he said there are better solutions needed than withdrawing proven, effective therapy.
Statins – side effects to expect while on them
Many people who take statins experience no or very few side effects.
According to the NHS, others experience some troublesome, but usually minor, side effects, such as diarrhoea, a headache or feeling sick.
“Your doctor should discuss the risks and benefits of taking statins if they’re offered to you,” says the health body.
The risks of any side effects also have to be balanced against the benefits of preventing serious problems.
A review of scientific studies into the effectiveness of statins found around one in every 50 people who take the medicine for five years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke, as a result.
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