New research released by two heart associations in late November created a fire storm of controversy in health care circles. The guidelines identified four high-risk groups of people believed to be good candidates for the benefits of statin drugs:

– People who have pre-existing heart disease

– People aged 40 to 75 who live with diabetes

– People ages 40 to 75 with a 7.5% or greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the next decade

– People with genetically linked high cholesterol (LDL of 190 or more)

These controversial new guidelines would double the number of people eligible to receive these drugs. But within a few days of the release of the new guidelines, serious errors were found in the calculator used to determine risk. In some cases the calculator was found to overestimate a patient’s risk by as much as 150%.

What should you consider if your doctor wants you to follow these new guidelines and begin a statin therapy?

First, listen to the reasoning why. Be honest with them if they ask what you’ve tried to do to modify your diet and what kind of exercise regime you follow. They need to get an accurate picture of what has and hasn’t worked for you.

Second, know the risks and weigh them with the risk of not taking the drug. The most common statin risks include:

  • Muscle damage

One of the most widely reported symptoms caused by a stain is muscle damage. It can vary from weakness and fatigue to severe muscle pain.

  • Cognitive problems

A 2009 study published in the journal Pharmacotherapy showed that 75% of patients “experienced cognitive adverse drug reactions determined to be probably or definitely related to statin therapy.” 90% of those who stopped taking the statin reported cognitive improvements. Some of the improvements came within a few days of discontinuing the drug.

  • Age

The older you are, the more likely it is you will have adverse reactions to statin drugs. Doctors have noted that seemingly unrelated health problems, such as restless leg syndrome, go away or improve when a statin is discontinued in older patients.

  • Increased Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Studies have shown that statins can increase the risk for developing diabetes by as much as 22%. The concern is high enough that in 2012 the FDA required producers of statin drugs to add diabetes to the risk factors on the drugs’ packaging.

What is the bottom line on statins?

That is still up for debate. If your doctor recommends you begin one and you just aren’t comfortable with that, consider getting a second opinion before you make your decision.

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