If you are debating whether or not to fill that prescription for a statin medication, you may want to read this article first.
I remember when I was learning to defend against a knife attack in my black belt class. My instructor, a former special forces soldier, looked at us with a solemn look and said, “when defending against a knife attack, the question is not whether or not you will get cut, because you are going to get cut, the question is how serious will the wound be. Your job, in defending a knife attack, is to position yourself to limit the damage when you do get cut while disarming your attacker.”
That wisdom can be applied to prescription medications as well. As with any medication, the question isn’t whether or not side effects will occur, but do the reported benefits outweigh the numerous and almost certain risks associated with the drugs?
Every day, medical doctors are forced to decide whether or not the risks of a medication are outweighed by the benefits, and how to dose and treat so that the risks of side effects are lowest while disarming the disease. Not exactly as dramatic as the knife attack, however, the outcome can be just as damaging and deadly if the wrong decision is made. The question at hand is, “are the risks of statin drugs outweighed by the benefits?”
A recent study sheds more light on the potential harm of popular cholesterol medications known as statin drugs. In this study on over 2 million men and women, researchers discovered that statin drugs significantly increased the risk of these serious side effects.
- Moderate to severe liver damage
- Moderate to severe muscle damage
- Kidney damage
Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
That is what the PR firms keep telling us; but is it true? After crunching the numbers, the researchers found that you would have to treat 37 women and 33 men for five years to prevent one case of heart disease. They also discovered that stains prevent esophageal cancer; but you would have to treat 1266 women and 1082 men for five years to prevent one case.
So what about the potential side effects?
Scientists use a statistical calculation called “Number Needed to Harm” (NNH) to show risk. Let’s find out how many people will be harmed by statins in a five-year period.
- One person will develop moderate to severe muscle damage for every 259 statin users
- One person will develop moderate to severe liver damage for every 136 statin users
- One person will develop kidney failure for every 434 statin users
- One person will develop cataracts for every 33 statin users
Let’s use these numbers to figure out what we can expect per 10,000 patients who use statins for 5 years.
- 271 fewer cases of diagnosed heart disease
- 8 fewer cases of esophageal cancer
- 74 cases of liver damage
- 23 cases of kidney failure
- 39 cases of debilitating muscle damage
- 307 cases of cataracts
Doctors accept these risks because they assume that statins actually prevent heart disease, at best, they delay it, that is, for a few people.
Based on this study, this means that 9721 out of 10,000 patients would gain no benefit from taking statins for five years. That is astoundingly dismal. Perhaps we should be looking for better options…