Doctors Ignore Concerns About Statin Side Effects

| December 26, 2013

One consistent ‘finding’ in the scientific literature on statins is the ‘low risk’ of side effects and a ‘good’ safety profile. However, we should be mindful of the fact that formal studies on statins are often set up in a way that can minimise the chances of adverse side effects turning up. Exclusion of study subjects who are in poor health (and therefore perhaps more likely to suffer from side effects) is one way to do this. Another way is to have a ‘run-in’ period before the study begins where all potential subjects are given a statin and those who have adverse effects are excluded. These devices are common practice, and they can give a falsely low impression of the risks of statins in the real world.

More data on the side effects of drugs can be gathered through ‘post marketing surveillance’. What this essentially means is doctors can report what they believe might be an adverse effect of a drug to monitoring authorities. I’ll be frank and say I don’t put a huge amount of faith in this process. One reason for this is that most doctors feel overworked and laden down with bureaucracy and admin tasks. Because of this, I suspect many doctors will be none-too-keen to add to that by filling out the necessary paperwork should they feel they may have identified a problem with a drug in one of their patients.

But for there to be any potential for an adverse effect to be reported, it must first be recognised by a doctor. There is some evidence that when patients raise concerns about potential adverse effects from statins, this tends to be rebuffed by their doctors.

In one study dating from 2007, several hundred individuals taking statins were polled [1]. They were asked questions about potential side-effects of statins including muscle pain and brain function issues, as well as any interaction they had with their doctors regarding these. 87 per cent of patients reported potential side-effects to their doctors. Overall, though, doctors were more likely to deny (rather than confirm) any potential connection. This was even the case where there is validated evidence for a link and the patients met symptom criteria that might cause doctors to be suspicious.

In other words, even when there was legitimate cause for concern, patients were mostly rebuffed by their doctors.

I have to say I have heard similar stories many times. It is possible that things have improved in 2007, as there has been increased recognition of the potential for statins to harm. This might be the case, but a factor working against this is the general increase in administration and bureaucratic duties doctors seem to be burdened with these days. My sense is that significant numbers of statin-takers are suffering needlessly.

So, what to do? Well, I think we really have got to the point when patients are often in a position to educate their doctors. I know from experience that many doctors do not like it when they feel their expertise is questioned and their authority usurped. Nevertheless, I think it is perfectly reasonable for patients to expect to be taken seriously when a legitimate concern is raised.

Here's to a healthy heart

Dr John Briffa
Editor
for The Cholesterol Truth



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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


Reference:

1. Golomb BA, et al. Physician Response to Patient Reports of Adverse Drug Effects: Implications For Patient-Targeted Adverse Effect Surveillance. Drug Safety. 2007;30(8):669-675.

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Category: Statin Drugs Side Effects

Comments (1)

Testimonials are based on the personal experience of individuals. Results are not typical and the potential benefits of taking any drug or supplement may vary depending on your individual needs and health requirements. Please consult your GP before making any changes to your medical regimen.

  1. colin says:

    Dear doctor Briffa,i am afraid nothing has changed,i am a 65 year old male,with some cardiovascular issues though healthy,i did have an carotid plaque removed 2010,i was diagnosed with high cholesterol [7] in 2009,i was put on satins [40mg]after about a year I reported to my doctor leg pains ,my wife with two replaced hips could outwalk me,always tired,but worse memory problems,,my daughter walked in one day and I could not remember her name,i reported these to my doctor,all he did was change to an different statin[Pravastatin sodium,i stopped taking then shortly after,and all the side effects disappeared after about A year,though the legs pains after about 3 months,my latest chol test was 7.5,i changed my diet eating much more fruit and more veg,i have lost a stone in weight down to 13st12,thank you for your informative article any advice you have I would appreciate, Colin

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