Drug company survey suggests statin side-effects are common and the most common reason for people stopping their medication

Statins are a runaway success in modern medicine, though it should perhaps be borne in mind that for the great majority of people who take them, they do nothing to prevent disease or delay death. Plus, there is growing awareness that these drugs are not without risk, and have genuine potential to cause adverse effects that include diabetes and damage to the muscles, liver and kidneys.

The hazards of statins is not something that the pharmaceutical industry likes to shout about, of course. In fact, industry sponsored studies sometimes look as though they’ve been designed to ensure the real risks of statins remain unseen. One tactic, for instance, is to screen out those most susceptible to side-effects before the study even begins. Another is to detect and log damage to organs only once blood test results are several times the upper limit of normal. For more on this, see this blog post from earlier this year.

So, sometimes it can be difficult to gauge the true risk of taking statins. And one thing I have noticed quite commonly is that many doctors believe the side-effects associated with statins appear to be, in practice, much higher than ‘official statistics’ suggest. Plus, it’s well known that about 75 per cent of people who start statins stop again within a year. Could side-effects be a major reason why individuals default in such large numbers?

Recently, the drug company Eli Lilly issued a press release regarding a survey was called ‘Understanding Statin use in America and Gaps in Education’ (‘USAGE’). The USAGE survey was an attempt, on the face of it, to better understand the reasons for why so many individuals stop taking their statins. More than 10,000 people were polled, and the results are in.

It turns out that off all of the reasons individuals might stop their statin medication, ‘side effects’ was the most commonly cited reason. According to the survey, a full 62 per cent of respondents cited side effects as the reason for stopping their medication. The two next most common reasons cited were ‘cost’ and ‘lack of effectiveness’ at 17 and 12 per cent respectively. You can see from these statistics that problems with side effects was the standout ‘winner’.

One might ask what it was about this drug company that led to a moment of uncharacteristic candour regarding statin side-effects. Well, it turns out that Eli Lilly, in conjunction with Kowa Pharmaceuticals America, markets a statin by the name of pritavastatin (Livalo). This statin is not widely prescribed, but it is sometimes said that it puts individuals at lower risk of side effects.

It seems to me that Lilly is keen to grab a bigger slice of the statin market. However, in so doing, it has revealed to us evidence which supports the idea that, in the real World (rather than the more manipulated and controllable environment of clinical studies), statin side effects are a much bigger problem then some would have us believe.

17 Responses to Drug company survey suggests statin side-effects are common and the most common reason for people stopping their medication

  1. Rachel 13 July 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    This is a really interesting article – I’m on statins because one of my family is a doctor and, knowing the family history of heart problems, thinks the whole family should be on statins. A few years ago I was on holiday which involved a fair amount of walking up and down metro stairways, streets etc. and found myself having to stop for breath all the time – very embarrassing. When I got home I started taking co enzyme Q10 every day and, touch wood, I don’t seem to have the problem anymore… Statins?

  2. Cassiel 13 July 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    Thanks for this, Dr Briffa. I’ve been following the statin stuff you’ve been posting for some time with interest. Thankfully no-one in my family takes statins, but a close friend’s father does, and we’ve both still trying to figure out how to get him off them. I keep sending her articles like this to forward to him; I figure information is the key!

    When I looked at the stats listed in the press release you linked to, I was also interested to note that “39% cited the Internet as their most frequent health information source”. I think that’s really telling, and a big change from the past when all we had to rely on was our doctor and our immediate circle of friends/family! I think it’s also a big indicator of what Tom Naughton mentions often about the wisdom of crowds; about people finding better answers to their solutions when they get together in groups on blogs and forums than when they go to their doctors.

    I’m actually really curious to see where the medical profession goes in the next few decades, because I feel like this is really an era where things are changing, big time. It’s kind of like watching what has happened to industries like newspapers and other print media, who have needed to evolve rapidly in order to survive the digital age and the advent of online media. Doctors like you are the ones who will survive and thrive, but I do wonder what will happen to doctors who refuse to accept these changes.

  3. Magarietha 13 July 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    our family has heterzygous familial hypercholesterolaemia which means that we have extremely high numbers when not on meds (a ketogenic diet fixed mine to almost normal). Whenever any of us go on the latest statin, within a week (ONE week) we get rhabdomyolises. Every one of us. it begins where you notice the muscles in your buttocks are tender when sitting down, then the legs go and then the arms and this is a very dangerous side-effect. Doctors never warn about exactly how dangerous rhabdomyolises is. We tolerate fibrates better, but still there’s a bit of muscle pain and other side-effects.

  4. Pru 13 July 2012 at 7:04 pm #

    My personal experience of friends and family is of bad side effects, but I know that none of these led to a yellow card (I think that is the term) where the doctor reported side effects back to the medicines regulatory body. There must be huge numbers of similar unreported side effects.

    I am also under the impression that women without a previous cardiovascular incident or problem have absolutely no proven benefit, and I wonder if prescribing statins to this group should be reportable as malpractice? A close relative of mine was in this position and suffered very bad muscle problems which have never reversed although she only took the statins for a year.

  5. Marie 13 July 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    I have never taken statins nor will I.
    Several people around me did and that`s why I became interested in this topic.
    I started to look for information in 2004.

    To begin with, I “discovered” the cholesterol sceptic network, thincs.org, lead by Uffe Ravnskov. He has written several books in Swedish, English and other languages.

    Then I read books by Duane Graveline, Anthony Colpo, Malcolm Kendrick, Joel M. Kauffman and many more, but above all – the many diverse patient stories at askapatient.com, spacedoc.net (Forum), medications.com and peoplespharmacy.com (search for the different medications and statins).

    Google the names of the different statins, for instance: Zocor (=simvastatin), Lipitor (atorvastatin), Crestor (rouvastatin?), Mevacor and Pravachol.

    You will discover that they have very similar side effects and the patient stories will show that they can appear soon – or later.

    Sometimes they are diagnosed as other diseases (=more medications) or the patient can be told that it`s just “old age”. This is what happened to my relatives.

    Statins can also affect your memory and make your irritable.
    Please google: “Wonder Drug That Stole My Memory” – article by Stephen Hudson in The Telegraph, Mars 2009. There were a lot of comments then.

    If you want to see a funny, but sad video-clip about statins – google – “The Lipitor Paradox”.

    Remember, it`s your body and you know best how you feel.
    You have the right to be respected even if you don´t take statins.

    I

    • Magarietha 24 July 2014 at 6:14 pm #

      Problem is, my son of 34 has just had quintuple bypass surgery. He has heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia. BUT, he cannot tolerate statins at all. he gets kidney failure in about 7 days time. No matter HOW low the dosage, not to mention a myriad of debilitating side-effect. The doctors are hysterical now about him. There is nothing for him to do. I am scared to death. My mother with the same disease is now 83 and she’s the carrier but the men with this disease have died young thus far. I don’t want to lose my son!

  6. Robert 13 July 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    Very good article. There is no question side effects get swept under the rug. Its in the drug company’s financial interest to do so. Only after 20+ years does the truth emerge.

    But another truth about statins is emerging. There effectiveness on the overall population in preventing death from Heart disease. Death is the ultimate endpoint, so lets look closely at how statins have impacted death rates from heart disease in the United States.

    Death from heart attacks an strokes peaked at an all time high in 1968. Since then, death rates have steadily declined. Statins came onto the market in 1987. Studying graphs from the National Institutes of Health, we can track the decline in heart disease.

    The decline rate pre and post statins remained unchanged. On the US population as a whole, statins did ZERO to enhance the decline rate in death from heart disease.

  7. Matty Maccaro 13 July 2012 at 11:01 pm #

    I’m so happy I had the courage to let my doctors know that
    I will not take statins. When I did the muscle pain in my legs
    led to depression, then I could not remember things and once
    I stopped these horrible drugs, I was fine within a few weeks.
    It scares me to think what condition I’d be in, had I obeyed
    the orders of doctors who are so pro statins, they want to put
    this poison in our water supply. Big Pharma is taking advantage
    of the US obesity epidemic to widen their market to children.
    Proper diet is the medicine most folks need for most issues.

  8. dave p 13 July 2012 at 11:03 pm #

    Well if its marketed as healthy it must be ……….. right ??
    What i find more disturbing isnt actually the drug companies, they at least do have the profit motive.
    More alarming is the readiness with which the Medical Community accept without any real chanllenge. And most definitely there are few Corporate holding to account cases.

  9. nonegiven 14 July 2012 at 12:56 am #

    For drug side effects in the US:
    http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/HowToReport/ucm053074.htm

  10. André 14 July 2012 at 9:55 am #

    The main reason not to use statins is that cholesterol is not a problem. Everybody knows it. But the market for statins must be worth billions of dollars annually. Sad. Consider these facts (and check them if you don’t believe me):
    1) 70% of CVD patients have normal cholesterol levels
    2) Centenarians all have high cholesterol levels
    3) Suicidal people have low cholesterol levels
    4) As LDL is vital to your immune system, low cholesterol increases cancer risk.

    It’s only the ‘small particle LDL’ that is capable of entering you bloodvessels. That’s the real devil. How to avoid these? Less carbs in the diet.

    So, side effects of statins are irrelevant; nobody needs them anyway.

  11. Richard 18 July 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    I was unaware of some of these side effects, I’ve been googling since reading this article as my Mum is on satins and that could explain some of the side effects she has been reporting, thank you.

  12. Greg 20 July 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Best website for stating side effects http://www.spacedoc.net
    Pharmacist whose life was ruined by lipitor

  13. Robert 28 February 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    Statins are credited with saving “millions of lives.” How do they measure the efficiency of these drugs? How do you prove an individual didn’t suffer a fatal heart attack because they were taking a pill?

    Its absolutely impossible to prove. Its 100% impossible to prove a would-be heart attack was averted because they were taking a statin or any other pill.

    Even in large clinical trials where two groups are compared, nobody on planet earth knows who would have, and who wouldn’t have had a cardiac event had the drug not been given.

    So by what solid measure do we come to the conclusion that statins save millions of lives?

    Rest assured, if a large trial were conducted and both groups received a placebo, Either group A or Group B will come out a winner. The odds of flipping a coin and having it come to rest on its edge is slim to none.

    Do statins save millions of lives? Who said so?

  14. Magarietha 28 February 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    Hi Dr. Briffa,
    I heard an old retired doctor say on radio that when those aches start, get off them immediately because it’s the beginnings of rhabdomyolisis and he repeated that “it then becomes extremely dangerous”. And with my mom and me we get real rhabdomyolisis. A kidney test will show and I wonder if too many docs simply see it as a minor side effect when, really, too much muscle debris is going through uncoping kidneys? What do latest studies say about Fibrates. We are now on those, but unhappily so. But we do have less of those side effects. Unfortunately my family hve been told even by very enlightened physicians to rather stay on lipid lowering drugs, as we have HFH. Without pills we get formation of xanthomas around the eyes. Cheers

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Is our faith in unproven cholesterol-reducing strategies due to brain-washing? | Dr Briffa's Blog - A Good Look at Good Health - 23 November 2012

    [...] Recently, a brief article appeared in the British Medical Journal about how to manage the muscle pain (myalgia) that can occur in takers of the cholesterol-reducing drugs known as statins. The article itself describes this symptom as ‘common’, quoting an incidence of 5-10 per cent in published studies. However, my experience in practice is that this side-effect is more common. This might have something to do with the fact that in many published studies those prone to side-effects are screened out prior to the actual study getting underway. Also, researchers sometimes only log problems once blood test results are extremely abnormal, setting the bar very high for what would be registered as a ‘adverse effect’. You can read more about this here. [...]

  2. Is our faith in unproven cholesterol-reducing strategies due to brain-washing? | Dr Briffa's Blog - A Good Look at Good Health - 28 February 2013

    [...] Recently, a brief article appeared in the British Medical Journal about how to manage the muscle pain (myalgia) that can occur in takers of the cholesterol-reducing drugs known as statins. The article itself describes this symptom as ‘common’, quoting an incidence of 5-10 per cent in published studies. However, my experience in practice is that this side-effect is more common. This might have something to do with the fact that in many published studies those prone to side-effects are screened out prior to the actual study getting underway. Also, researchers sometimes only log problems once blood test results are extremely abnormal, setting the bar very high for what would be registered as a ‘adverse effect’. You can read more about this here. [...]

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