The Great Statin debate

The Great Statin debate

Statins have been in the limelight for some time now, with the should you? / shouldn’t you? question hovering in the corner like an uninvited party guest. Not a day goes by where the subject isn’t discussed at length on the News.  So it’s under no debate that main benefits of statins are they have been proven to lower cholesterol . Those who have been diagnosed with high/dangerous levels of LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins) cholesterol are advised to take this drug as prescribed to lower cholesterol and reduce the potential risk associated to heart disease.

With seven million people in the UK thought to be taking statins, at a rough cost of £285 million to the NHS, it is understandably a topic that is relevant to many.  Given recent controversial news that some doctors and healthcare professionals can’t agree on the right time to take them, or even that some research published outlining the side effects may have been incorrect, is it any wonder that the average layperson (me) finds it all incredibly confusing.

Cardiovascular Disease, more commonly referred to as heart disease, is still the largest cause of death in adults in England and Wales. Being strongly linked to reducing high cholesterol it’s been suggested by some health care professionals that statins (now relatively cheap drugs) should be prescribed as a matter of course to males over the age of 50 and females over 60 to prevent Cardiovascular Disease. On the opposing side are the views of those who believe that taking a drug when there is no medical reason could also provide the user with unwanted side-effects.

Some of the less extreme side effects are thought to be:

  • Nausea
  • Pain in the muscles
  • Sleeplessness/Fatigue
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Stomach complaints

At this point it would be fair to point out those recent studies that looked into a number of these side effects have recently been withdrawn from the BMJ (British Medical Journal) after the study was put under scrutiny by Professor Sir Rory Collins. Collins has claimed that the study could cause serious alarm and affect people’s decisions to take statins, as two articles published off the back of the paper (by John Abramson and colleagues)claimed that that 18-20% of people would suffer side effects from taking statins. After further investigation into the study, both articles were subsequently withdrawn by the BMJ, following information that data from the study had been misread and reported incorrectly. However, it has still raised an important question. Should you be prepared to suffer any of the above if you have not been diagnosed with a medical condition in the outset?

In summary,  there may be potential side-effects  from taking statins, but as a result of incorrect information circulated in the medical world it has thrown into doubt the credibility of the whole study. Doubtless, evidence that was found in Abremson’s study, that side-effects of taking statins outweigh the benefits in people who are at low risk of CVD will now be tossed aside due to unreliable data. So the topic remains as unclear as ever and statins saga and great debate will continue.

More importantly, this topical subject has highlighted to me the need to be proactive about my own cholesterol levels and my heart health and not to ignore the importance of cholesterol levels until later in life, when statins may become essential. Let’s not forget the fact that there is still a choice but being proactive about heart health is a must.