A new study suggests Cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins, such as Lipitor and Zocor which have been shown to lower a person’s risk for heart attack, can also slightly increase a patient’s risk for developing diabetes, particularly at higher doses.
The findings are based on new analyses of five clinical trials involving 32,752 patients, who were followed for an average of five years. None of these patients tested positive for diabetes when the study began. This raises new questions about how much we really know about the long-term effects of statins, which are the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States. The focus on the link between statins and diabetes comes at a time when some medical experts and pharmaceutical companies have pushed to broaden the use of the drugs beyond the 40 million at-risk patients who already use them to healthy people who would take the drugs for prevention of heart disease.
“Overall, we found that high doses were associated with a 12 percent increased risk of diabetes compared with standard doses,” study co-author Dr. Kausik Ray, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at St George’s in London, told Reuters.
Researchers took a close look at experiments involving heart patients taking statins and found almost 8.4 percent of them developed diabetes. Almost 4.5 percent of those patients were taking a high dosage (80 mg a day) and almost 4 percent were on moderate dosages (10 mg to 40 mg a day). That translates to a 20 percent overall increased risk of diabetes for high-dose statin users, compared to those who don’t take the drugs, according to the study’s senior author.
For every person who developed diabetes in the study, three people were protected against a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke, said study researcher David Preiss, of the University of Glasgow in the Scotland.
“In patients at high cardiovascular risk, there is little doubt that the benefits will strongly outweigh any risks, and we are keen to reinforce the message that patients keep taking their medication,” Preiss said. But doctors should inform patients about this increased risk, and perhaps, test them regularly for diabetes.
The study was published in the June 22 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.