A new study warns about the use of statin drugs that are taken to lower cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular diseases.

The authors weighed the benefits and side effects of statin drugs by analyzing data from clinical trials, surveys, and observational studies.

The findings were published in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Statin Drugs: The Good And The Bad

"Some harms are mentioned, but it is entirely unclear how they were considered when coming up with the recommendations," stated Milo Puhan, an epidemiologist from the University of Zurich and the senior author of the study. "In our approach we very explicitly considered the harms."

Statin drugs are generally considered safe for most people but, albeit rare, they come with side effects like any other medication. The most common side effect of statin drugs is muscle pain. A more serious side effect of statin drugs is type 2 diabetes.

Moreover, not all statin drugs are the same. The study found that some are more effective than others. For example, atorvastatin and rosuvastatin provide a lowered risk of cardiovascular diseases than simvastatin and pravastatin.

In addition, the efficiency of the drugs gradually fades as the patient grows older. Men who are 40 to 44 years old have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular diseases when taking statin drugs compared to men who are 70 years old and above.

Is Statin Being Overprescribed?

The study puts into question whether statin drugs are being overprescribed in the United States. Millions of Americans are taking statin drugs to prevent cardiovascular diseases.

However, Puhan argued that only 15 to 20 percent of older adults should be taking statin drugs to reap more benefits than side effects from the medication. His estimate is far lower than current medical guidelines that suggest 30 to 40 percent of adults should take statin drugs to lower their risk of cardiovascular diseases.

The U.S. Food and Drug Authority has issued safety information about statin drugs, highlighting the negative side effects of the medication. The federal agency also advised healthcare professionals and patients who take the medication to monitor liver enzymes that will prevent liver injury.

"The value of statins in preventing heart disease has been clearly established," stated Amy Egan, deputy director for safety at the FDA. "Their benefit is indisputable, but they need to be taken with care and knowledge of their side effects."

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