Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs are proven lifesavers that are among the most widely used prescription medications, yet millions of Americans who are good candidates for them don’t take them.
In a recent report from the CDC, researchers analyzed national data and estimated that more than one-third of adults should be taking statins, based on guidelines from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology. That includes 44 percent of people ages 40 to 64 along with 80 percent of those 65 and older (and 4 percent of younger adults).
Of these candidates for treatment, only 55 percent were taking statins or other cholesterol-lowering drugs, and 47 percent were making lifestyle changes, such as exercising and losing excess weight, to control their blood cholesterol (one-third were doing both, another third neither).
Why do people skip statins? The CDC researchers did not have data on this. But common reasons include fear of potential adverse effects (known or far-fetched), lack of medical care, general dislike of medication, and denial that treatment is necessary.
A recent Danish study has suggested that negative news reports about statins may also play a role.
Statins often make news that can influence people who take them, according to the study, published in the European Heart Journal. The researchers looked at 675,000 people in Denmark who started taking statins between 1995 and 2010 and identified 1,930 news items on statins. They then assessed how statin use changed following the news.
Only 5 percent of the news reports about statins were judged to be negative (about the known risks of muscle damage and diabetes or about unsubstantiated risks such as memory problems). The researchers estimated that after negative news, statin users were 9 percent more likely to discontinue use. In contrast, statin users were 8 percent less likely to discontinue the medication following the 40 percent of news stories judged to be positive.
People who quit taking statins (for any reason) were found to have an estimated 26 percent higher risk of heart attacks and 18 percent higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those continuing the drugs. That works out to about two extra heart attacks and one extra death per 100 statin users over a 10-year period.
Bottom line: If you’re hesitant about starting on a statin or are thinking of stopping one, discuss the risks and benefits with your health care provider. For some perspective on the side effects, see Statins and Muscle Pain. For more information about preventing and treating high cholesterol, check out our newly updated 64-page Wellness Report Controlling Your Cholesterol.