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What are the risks of taking Statin drugs to lower your cholesterol?

The most commonly used drugs to lower cholesterol today are called statin drugs. Approximately, 10 million Americans are taking these drugs and most of them have no side-effects at all. All of these drugs, however, have the potential of liver damage and muscle damage. However, only one of the drugs, namely Baycol, has been actually taken off the market for these problems. In almost all instances the benefits in reducing heart attacks and strokes far outweigh the risks, which themselves are quite low.

Many patients do complain of leg pain, back pain and generalized muscle aching. Most often these are not symptoms of severe muscle damage but are important symptoms not to ignore. In all patients with muscle aching I recommend checking muscle enzymes, and often stop the drug altogether. This indeed is the most common reason that people stop taking statin drugs and approximately 10% of people have some form of muscle discomfort. Nevertheless, this problem rarely results in severe muscle damage or kidney failure, but it is still a concern. Indeed, Baycol was removed from the market because it caused muscle damage that eventually affected the kidneys of several patients and caused renal failure. Of the drugs currently on the market the risk of developing muscle damage known as rhabdomyolysis is extremely rare and being carefully monitored by the FDA.

Occasionally, this class of drugs which includes Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor, Mevacor and Pravochol, can cause liver damage as well. This occurs in less of 1% of patients taking these medications and necessitates careful monitoring of liver enzymes during the entire time of patient is on the drug. Liver enzymes should be checked six weeks after starting the medication and at least yearly thereafter. If the liver enzymes start to rise, stopping the drug will almost always result in return to normal liver function. Thus, we have nearly eliminated liver toxicity as a major factor in taking statin drugs.

Statin drugs have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by 35% in large population studies. Given the millions of people who are taking the drugs today the safety record is truly remarkable and the benefits are huge.


Galichia Medical Group, P.A.
2600 N Woodlawn
Wichita, KS 67220

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