Harmful side effects from statins ‘exaggerated’, finds review

A major evidence review has found harmful side effects from statins were exaggerated. Picture: Contributed

A major evidence review has found harmful side effects from statins were exaggerated. Picture: Contributed

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Statins are safe to use and harmful side-effects have been exaggerated by unreliable studies, according to a major medical review.

The cholesterol-busting pills are proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, but years of controversy and conflicting reports of side effects meant that hundreds of thousands of people have snubbed using statins.

Scots experts said that many people could have died due to avoiding statins, which are the most commonly prescribed medicines.

Scrutiny of more than 30-years of evidence found that the risks of a negative reaction are far outweighed by the benefits, according to a review published in The Lancet medical journal.

The study found unreliable evidence from observational studies was given too much weight, while results from reliable randomised drugs trials were not properly acknowledged.

Professor Rory Collins, one of the review authors from Oxford University, said: “Our review shows that the numbers of people who avoid heart attacks and strokes by taking statin therapy are very much larger than the numbers who have side-effects with it.

“In addition, whereas most of the side-effects can be reversed with no residual effects by stopping the statin, the effects of a heart attack or stroke not being prevented are irreversible and can be devastating.”

The review found that side-effects can include muscle pain, diabetes or stroke, but suggestions that statins cause other conditions, such as memory loss, cataracts, kidney injury and liver disease, were not accurate.

Edinburgh University expert Professor David Webb hailed the findings and said he had been fighting an “uphill battle” to convince patients of the benefits of statins.

He said: “Many patients who have much to benefit from statins, and many of those at more modest risk, have been persuaded not to take them because of exaggerated claims of harm, and some research suggesting that the benefits have been overestimated.

“It is likely that many lives have been lost, based on a received view that statins are dangerous and ineffective.

“This comprehensive review, by a broad group of leading international academics, of robust and unbiased evidence from randomised controlled trials and systematic reviews, confirms that statins are both effective and cost effective, and that the benefit rises with the level of pre-treatment risk.”

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