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Statins fear is putting patients health at risk researchers warn

Everyone over 50 should consider taking statins to reduce the risk of a heart attack because the possible side effects have been exaggerated, a leading expert has said.Statins fear is putting patients health at risk researchers warnSir Rory Collins, of Oxford University, said taking cholesterol-lowering statins before warning signs start to appear could provide much more protection from heart attacks or stroke.

He accused medical regulators of overstating the possible side effects of statins, the majority of which have not been borne out in clinical trials, because it could encourage them to stop taking the medication and put their health at risk.

He disputed claims that statins can cause sleep disturbances, memory loss, sexual dysfunction, depression, lung disease, cataracts, diabetes, memory loss and confusion.

The only side effect proven by experiments is a very low risk of myopathy – a condition which causes muscles to weaken – which is easily outweiged by the benefit to the heart of taking the drugs, Sir Rory said.

Sir Rory said current guidelines on statin use should be scrapped and patients encouraged to begin using the medication earlier. He was speaking after his keynote lecture at the European Society of  Cardiology’s annual congress in Munich.

Today doctors are advised to prescribe statins if a patient has more than a 20 per cent chance of a heart attack or stroke in the next five years, but Sir Rory said taking the drugs earlier could provide patients with “more bang for your buck”, adding: “At 50 you should be considering it.”

His research group recently published a study showing statins can cut the risk of a heart attack or stroke by a fifth in people with no immediate risk of heart disease.

Sir Rory said: “There is an argument being made that if we start treatment earlier and continue for a longer time then the benefits will be much greater. You are not trying to un-fur arteries, you are preventing them from furring in the first place.

“If you start at a younger age, then if you keep on with the treatment you may get more benefit than if you wait. I think the age of about 50 is the age to start thinking about it.  The question of whether to look at starting even earlier to get more benefit when you are older is an open question.”

In his lecture, Sir Rory claimed that regulators should reconsider the way statins are labelled and remove warnings of possible sideeffects which have not been proven to be caused by the drugs.

Official guidance on the drugs from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency warns of symptoms including sleep disturbances, memory loss, sexual dysfunction, depression and lung disease.

The medication has also been linked to the risk of cataracts and diabetes, and this year the American FDA changed its list of sideeffects to include memory loss and confusion.

He added that research has shown an increase in diagnoses of diabetes among statin users, but said the drug may have merely accelerated the diagnosis and not the disease itself.

He said: “I think we need to look properly at the safety and the reliability of statins.  The reality is that these drugs are remarkably safe and the problem is that high-risk patients are getting the message that these drugs have side effects. We have evidence now of worthwhile absolute benefits in low-risk individuals, and against that we have very small examples of myopathy.”

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