Statins: BMJ investigates claims over side effects
Two articles claiming cholesterol-reducing statins may be unsafe are to be investigated and could be retracted by the British Medical Journal. The authors have withdrawn figures suggesting up to 20% of users would suffer harmful side effects such as liver disease and kidney problems. About seven million people in the UK at risk of heart disease are prescribed statins.
Experts fear the articles, which were widely reported in October, will have discouraged people from taking them. The real question is whether the benefits of statins, such as cutting the odds of a heart attack, outweigh the risks which include type-2 diabetes. The drugs are currently given to patients at high risk of heart disease, often after a heart attack. These patients have the most to gain by lowering their cholesterol.
But there are now plans to prescribe statins to low risk patients too. They would face the same side effects, but for much smaller benefits.
Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said patients should feel “reassured” by the withdrawal of the claims and said people “should not stop taking their statin”. “Statins are an important weapon in the fight against heart disease and it is essential that trusted medical journals like the BMJ do not mislead the public,” he said. Dr Tim Chico, honorary consultant cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, said the drugs were “one of the most well proven treatments doctors can use for any disease”.
Julie Crossley, a medical injury lawyer at Ashtons Legal, comments: “There appear to be two issues here, how high the risk is from the drugs and how accurate the articles in the BMJ are and clearly patients who are taking statins need to be reassured and the risks and benefits clearly explained to high and low risk patients. An independent review should be welcomed to offer some reassurance.”
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