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Statin Cholesterol Drug Side Effects Are Manageable, New Study Says

Update Date: Apr 01, 2013 08:08 PM EDT

Most people who stop taking cholesterol-lowering statins, due to mild side effects, are able to restart the same drug or a similar one without incurring any serious issues, a new study said Monday.

A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine examined statins, one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the USA and found that even though they offer proven benefits, and many patients still stop taking them. Reasons for patients to quit taking the medication include; fatigue, muscle pain, confusion and concerns about diabetes.

Over a period of nine years, researchers studied records of over 100,000 Boston-area adults who started a statin drug and found that 17 percent stopped taking it because of side effects like muscle aches and cramps.

However, within a year, more than half gave statins another chance and 90 percent were able to continue the medication.

The researchers said that patients who are required to take statins and later quit them are not good for them as it increases the risk of suffering serious heart problems. Doctors encourage patients to not give up the drugs altogether based on mild reactions or discomfort.

About one in four Americans ages 45 and older take a statin drug, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The drugs are especially recommended for people with diabetes or a history of cardiovascular problems. Statin's cost anywhere from $11 to more than $200 per month.

Researchers set out to determine why there are more complaints of side effects in clinical practice than in clinical trials. "It could be that patients hear about the side effects in news reports,'' Turchin says."It's very common in clinical practice to hear complaints about them. Some of these complaints are just due to aging and have nothing to do with the statin."

Doctors expect patients to stay on them for life - along with eating a low-fat diet and exercising regularly. Statins lower bad cholesterol, helping to lower risk of developing heart disease. They also improve survival in patients who already have heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the USA.

The study was funded by The National Library of Medicine, Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation and Chinese National Key Program of Clinical Science. Turchin received a grant from Merck, the manufacturer of a statin drug.

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