Tony Dao, M.D., F.A.C.C., is board certified in cardiovascular diseases and has special interests in clinical cardiovascular diseases, congestive heart failure and nuclear cardiology. Dr. Dao practices with Johns Hopkins community doctors in Bethesda.
This content is sponsored by Johns Hopkins Medicine
If you have changed bad habits (such as late nights and binge eating) for good (such as jogging and cooking a healthy meal), you are on the right track to maintain or maintain your cholesterol levels within a normal range. But sometimes making adjustments in lifestyle is not enough to lower your cholesterol. That's when your doctor can recommend statins.
Statins are prescription drugs that lower cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. Often, the first line of therapy after changes in lifestyle, statins can reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack and even death from heart disease by 25 percent or more. If you have already experienced a cardiovascular event, statins are a pillar of long-term preventive therapy to reduce the possibility of it happening again.
Although statins benefit people at increased risk of heart disease, many people are concerned about taking this clbad of medications because of misconceptions about possible side effects.
There are many studies, with thousands of patients for decades, that have demonstrated the benefit of statin therapy in patients with coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease and diabetes. To obtain those benefits, people must first overcome myths.
Myth # 1: Taking medications with statins leads to diabetes from nothing
Truth: in clinical trials, statins seem to accelerate the diagnosis of diabetes in adults, because they cause a slight rise in blood sugar. However, many people affected by this side effect already have higher blood sugar levels or prediabetes due to risk factors such as obesity. For those who are diabetic at the limit, the slight increase in blood sugar can lead to a diagnosis of diabetes about five weeks earlier than it would otherwise be.
Research indicates that statin drugs do not induce diabetes in a person who is not yet approaching a diagnosis of diabetes. In general, the benefit of statins in reducing cardiovascular events in a patient at risk far exceeds the potential for a slight increase in blood sugar.
Myth # 2: Statins often cause memory loss
Truth: In 2012, the FDA changed the labels of statin drugs to include information that some people had experienced confusion and memory loss when taking the medications. People were seriously concerned that lower cholesterol levels could affect brain function. But the brain produces its own cholesterol and does not depend on cholesterol in the blood.
A review of the studies conducted by Dr. Seth Martin at Johns Hopkins showed no evidence of accelerated dementia or memory loss. In general, statins theoretically have the potential to decrease the incidence of dementia due to the prevention of stroke.
Myth # 3: You could get cataracts by taking statins
Truth: Some studies have indicated that there may be a relationship between medications with statins and an increased risk of developing cataracts. However, these investigations have been carried out in animals or in less rigorous studies.
The best evidence we have comes from high-quality clinical trials in humans, which showed that statin drugs do not increase the risk of cataract formation. Some studies performed eye exams on people over time and showed no differences in eye health between those taking and not taking statins.
The bottom line
Doctors and health care providers are encouraged to practice what is called evidence-based medicine. This means that we try to make decisions to improve our patients based on the available evidence obtained through high quality clinical studies.
There is an overwhelming amount of data based on many studies over the years to support that statins will significantly decrease cardiovascular events and death. The use of statins along with diet, exercise and modification of the risk factor are the foundations in our treatment of heart disease. If there are any concerns about the use of statins and possible side effects, it is important that patients talk to their health care provider.