People taking a statin medicine should continue taking it unless otherwise advised by their doctor despite recent reports in mainstream media suggesting the widely used medicines are over-prescribed, or that they may put users at risk of diabetes and memory loss.

What are statins?

Statins are medicines that can be prescribed for people who have already had a heart attack or other cardiovascular event in the past, as well as people who have a number of important risk factors for cardiovascular events, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Statins include medicines with any of the following active ingredients: atorvastatin (e.g. brand name Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor) and are used to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.

Statins reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease

Keeping ‘bad’ cholesterol (or LDL cholesterol) at a low level in the blood is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease

It has been claimed that statins may be over-prescribed in Australia. While blood cholesterol levels can be lowered with diet and exercise, many people at high risk of heart attack or stroke may also need help from a cholesterol-lowering medicine to reduce their risk, even if their cholesterol levels are normal.

If you are taking a statin and you are unsure if you are at high risk of cardiovascular disease, see your doctor. They can estimate your heart and stroke risk score and tell you if the cardiovascular benefits of the statin outweigh the risks for you.

People who are concerned about the side effects statins should also discuss this with their doctor.

Do statins increase the risk of diabetes?

US regulators have decided that product information leaflets for statins will advise people they carry a small increased risk of developing diabetes and memory problems.

However, evidence reviewed by the main regulator for medicines in the US – the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – still suggests that for people who are at high risk of cardiovascular events (heart attack or stroke), the risk of developing diabetes with statins is small compared with the effectiveness of statins in reducing the risk of cardiovascular events.

For example, in an analysis of statin trials involving more than 90,000 people, new diabetes cases occurred in people taking statins as well as those who didn’t. This shows that some people at risk of cardiovascular disease may develop diabetes anyway, although the number of new diabetes cases was 9% higher in those people taking statins.

Do statins cause memory loss or amnesia?

Despite statins being widely prescribed and taken by millions of people worldwide, there are only a relatively small number of reports of minor memory loss in people taking statins. The symptoms were reversed when the statins were stopped.

People who are concerned about memory loss with statins should also discuss this with their doctor.