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Drug company survey suggests statin side-effects are common and the most common reason for people stopping their medication

Posted Jul 13 2012 6:55am

Statins are a runaway success in modern medicine, though it should perhaps be borne in mind that for the great majority of people who take them, they do nothing to prevent disease or delay death. Plus, there is growing awareness that these drugs are not without risk, and have genuine potential to cause adverse effects that include diabetes and damage to the muscles, liver and kidneys.

The hazards of statins is not something that the pharmaceutical industry likes to shout about, of course. In fact, industry sponsored studies sometimes look as though they’ve been designed to ensure the real risks of statins remain unseen. One tactic, for instance, is to screen out those most susceptible to side-effects before the study even begins. Another is to detect and log damage to organs only once blood test results are several times the upper limit of normal. For more on this, see this blog post from earlier this year.

So, sometimes it can be difficult to gauge the true risk of taking statins. And one thing I have noticed quite commonly is that many doctors believe the side-effects associated with statins appear to be, in practice, much higher than ‘official statistics’ suggest. Plus, it’s well known that about 75 per cent of people who start statins stop again within a year. Could side-effects be a major reason why individuals default in such large numbers?

Recently, the drug company Eli Lilly issued a press release regarding a survey was called ‘Understanding Statin use in America and Gaps in Education’ (‘USAGE’). The USAGE survey was an attempt, on the face of it, to better understand the reasons for why so many individuals stop taking their statins. More than 10,000 people were polled, and the results are in.

It turns out that off all of the reasons individuals might stop their statin medication, ‘side effects’ was the most commonly cited reason. According to the survey, a full 62 per cent of respondents cited side effects as the reason for stopping their medication. The two next most common reasons cited were ‘cost’ and ‘lack of effectiveness’ at 17 and 12 per cent respectively. You can see from these statistics that problems with side effects was the standout ‘winner’.

One might ask what it was about this drug company that led to a moment of uncharacteristic candour regarding statin side-effects. Well, it turns out that Eli Lilly, in conjunction with Kowa Pharmaceuticals America, markets a statin by the name of pritavastatin (Livalo). This statin is not widely prescribed, but it is sometimes said that it puts individuals at lower risk of side effects.

It seems to me that Lilly is keen to grab a bigger slice of the statin market. However, in so doing, it has revealed to us evidence which supports the idea that, in the real World (rather than the more manipulated and controllable environment of clinical studies), statin side effects are a much bigger problem then some would have us believe.

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