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Statins – Yay or Nay? PDF Print Email

Statins are drugs that lower cholesterol and are often recommended to those in high – risk groups to help protect against heart-attacks and strokes.  There is currently a consulation going on discussing whether far more people should be put on statins as a matter of course.  The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says statin treatment should be offered to more people to save more lives.  Cardiovascular disease remains the biggest killer in the UK claiming about 180,000 lives every year.  Currently doctors are meant to offer statins to those with a high risk based on risk factors such as age, smoker and previous heart attack.  NICE are now suggesting those at lower risk should also be offered statins.  Statins can have side effects and doctors are pretty much split 50 / 50 on whether treating patients in lower risk groups would be beneficial.

Former GP and deputy chairman of the British Medical Association Dr Kailash Chand has first-hand experience of the side effects of statins.

"A few years ago I started taking statins knowing that it has all the benefits and after perhaps a few weeks I started having muscle aches, sleep disturbance."

Common side effects can include headache, nausea and sleep problems and can affect between one in 10 and one in 100 people and the doseage of stating can play a significant role ie. A very low dose should have little or no noticeable side – effects where as a high dose is more likely to cause problems.

For between one in 100 and one in 1,000 people taking a statin can result in inflammation of the liver, blurred vision and weakness.

Severe side effects such as memory problems, jaundice and damage to nerves and muscles are rare, affecting fewer than one in 1,000 people.

Each person will need to weigh these risks against any potential gains, and some may decide that it's not worth taking statins preventatively.

NICE guidelines are not compulsory, so even if they recommned lower-risk people should take statins you do not have to and some doctors may not recommend this either.

Prof Peter Weissberg of the British Heart Foundation says that ultimately it will be up to patients and their doctors to decide.

"Life-threatening side effects are thankfully extraordinarily rare. But troublesome side effects are relatively common, although that's true of any drug."

It is important to remember that while statins may offer many people a significant benefit in the prevention of a possible heart attack or stroke it has to be in conjunction with lifestyle factors like giving up smoking, a healthier diet and exercise.

If you would like to discuss statins, their benefits and possible side effects or get help in giving up smoking your local pharmacy is a good place to begin, you can pop in without an appointment and the pharmacist should be able to steer you in the right direction.