The benefits of statin use outweigh the risks.

If you’ve been taking a statin medication to lower your cholesterol, you might be wondering what you should do in light of new warnings about the link between statin use and diabetes.  Research conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital may help you and your doctor weigh the benefits and risks.

Due to their ability to effectively lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, statins are one of the most widely used prescription medications in the world.  Last year, almost 21 million patients in the US were prescribed statins.

In early 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required new labeling for statins to warn doctors and patients about a small risk of developing diabetes.  By studying data from a large clinical trial, BWH researchers identified which patients might be at risk for developing diabetes while taking this type of medication.

According to Dr. Paul Ridker, Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at BWH and the study’s lead author, the risk of developing diabetes while taking statins occurred almost entirely in people who had at least one other preexisting risk factor for diabetes.  (Diabetes risk factors include obesity and higher fasting blood sugar levels.)

But even among people at high risk for developing diabetes, the study found that the benefits of statin use outweighed the risks.  Among patients with diabetes risk factors, the BWH researchers estimated that 134 cardiac events or deaths were avoided for every 54 new cases of diabetes diagnosed.

Patients who did not have risk factors for diabetes did not have an increased risk of developing diabetes once they began taking statins.

“What matters for optimal patient care is the balance of risk and benefit,” Ridker said.  “The new data will inform physician-patient discussion and ease concern about risks associated with statin therapy when these drugs are appropriately prescribed.”

So whether you’re already taking a statin or it’s been recommended you take one, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your overall health before making your decision.

It’s also important to remember that lifestyle changes are essential for reducing your risk of heart disease.  Statins are an addition, not a replacement, for lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and smoking cessation.

For more information about risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, visit our online health library.

– Jamie R




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