Statins are a class of drug that was developed in the 1970s, as a result of research into the causes of cardiovascular disease. Researchers had found cholesterol deposits in the artery walls of individuals who had died of cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol is a natural compound produced by the human body. If they could find a way to limit the amount of cholesterol the body produced, they felt sure they could impact the number of deaths caused by heart disease and stroke.
The Search For Drugs To Stop Heart Disease and Stroke
Finding a drug that could reduce cholesterol production spawned the research that led to the development of statin drugs, and today, many doctors prescribe statin medications to help reduce the incidence of cardiovascular events. But along the way, a number of side effects were reported. In recent years, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has issued a number of new warnings about the effects of statin medications in some individuals.
How Do Statin Drugs Work?
Statin medications work by blocking the production of an enzyme called HMG CoA reductase, which is involved in cholesterol production in the liver. The body responds to this change by producing more low-density lipoproteins, the bad type of cholesterol, which are then sent to the liver and are digested, removing them from the body.
Side Effects From Statin Medications
A number of side effects have been reported by individuals using statin medications. These side effects may not occur in every patient, but they can significantly impact health and function of the individual. Side effects include:
- Muscle weakness
- Sinus problems
- Changes in liver enzymes
- Nausea or vomiting
- Constipation or diarrhea
New Concerns About Statin Drugs
The FDA has issued new warnings about the use of statin drugs because of recent studies linking the drugs with type-2 diabetes and dementia. A 2012 study found a link between the statin drug Lipitor, generic name atorvastatin, and an increased risk for type-2 diabetes, especially in older women. In addition, a number of small studies have found a link between statin drugs and dementia, which appears to be temporary and resolves when the patients is taken off the statin. Although the number of people affected by these problems appears to be small, the FDA deemed it important to notify physicians of these effects so that appropriate measures can be taken.
Despite the problem of side effects, statin use is still an important treatment for those who are at risk for heart problems and stroke. If you have started taking statin medications and notice any unusual side effects, contact your physician. You may be able to change to another type of statin or explore alternative options and avoid these effects.