Statins are perceived as well-tolerated, and raised liver enzymes and muscle problems are the only common adverse effects. Reported adverse effects are low in clinical trials but "higher in studies of real world use", and more varied.
While some patients on statin therapy report myalgias, muscle cramps, One Danish study in 2002 suggested a relation between long term statin use and increased risk of nerve damage or polyneuropathy but suggested this side effect is "rare, but it does occur"; other researchers have pointed to studies of the effectiveness of statins in trials involving 50,000 people which have not shown nerve damage as a significant side effect.
More serious but rare reactions include myositis and myopathy, with the potential for rhabdomyolysis (the pathological breakdown of skeletal muscle) leading to acute renal failure. Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone) levels are decreased in statin use; Q10 supplements are sometimes used to treat statin-associated myopathy, though evidence of their effectiveness is currently lacking. A common variation in the ''SLCO1B1'' gene, which participates in the absorption of statins, has been shown to significantly increase the risk of myopathy.
Graham et al. (2004) reviewed records of over 250,000 patients treated from 1998 to 2001 with the statin drugs atorvastatin, cerivastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin, and simvastatin. The incidence of rhabdomyolyis was 0.44 per 10,000 patients treated with statins other than cerivastatin. However, the risk was over tenfold greater if cerivastatin was used, or if the standard statins (atorvastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin, simvastatin) were combined with fibrate (fenofibrate or gemfibrozil) treatment. Cerivastatin was withdrawn by its manufacturer in 2001.
All commonly used statins show somewhat similar results, however the newer statins, characterized by longer pharmacological half-lives and more cellular specificity, have had a better ratio of efficacy to lower adverse effect rates. The risk of myopathy is lowest with pravastatin and fluvastatin probably because they are more hydrophillic and as a result have less muscle penetration. Lovastatin induces the expression of gene atrogin-1, which is believed to be responsible in promoting muscle fiber damage.
Despite initial concerns that statins might increase the risk of cancer, various studies concluded later that statins have no influence on cancer risk (including the heart protection study and a 2006 meta-analysis). Indeed, a 2005 trial showed that patients taking statins for over 5 years ''reduced'' their risk of colorectal cancer by 50%; this effect was not exhibited by fibrates. The trialists warn that the number needed to treat would approximate 5000, making statins unlikely tools for primary prevention. However, in a recent meta-analysis of 23 statin treatment arms with 309,506 person-years of follow-up, there was an inverse relationship between achieved LDL-cholesterol levels and rates of newly diagnosed cancer that the authors claim requires further investigation.
Combining any statin with a fibrate, another category of lipid-lowering drugs, increases the risks for rhabdomyolysis to almost 6.0 per 10,000 person-years. (it had been thought that flavonoids were responsible). This increases the levels of the statin, increasing the risk of dose-related adverse effects (including myopathy/rhabdomyolysis). Consequently, consumption of grapefruit juice is not recommended in patients undergoing therapy with most statins. An alternative, somewhat risky, approach is that some users take grapefruit juice to enhance the effect of lower (hence cheaper) doses of statins. This is not recommended as a result of the increased risk and potential for statin toxicity.
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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011