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Independent Advice on Statins and Cardiovascular Disease

With the statins group of cholesterol-lowering medicines continuing to make headlines this week, independent organisation NPS MedicineWise has reviewed the latest clinical evidence and published a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on its website addressing people’s key concerns.

The questions and answers range from how a statin medicine can help and who should be prescribed them, to the side effects statins can cause and what the evidence is behind their use.

NPS MedicineWise CEO Dr Lynn Weekes says it’s worrying that people might be stopping taking their prescribed statins without consulting their doctor.

“Reports emerged this week that doctors are seeing people who have stopped their statins as a result of the recent media coverage,” says Dr Weekes. “We know that all medicines have their own risks, benefits and side effects, but we also know it’s very clear that people at high risk of a heart attack or stroke benefit substantially from statins in terms of reducing risk.

“This is particularly the case for anyone who has had a pre-existing cardiovascular event.

“NPS MedicineWise is urging anyone with concerns to read our information, and then talk to their doctor to make a shared decision about whether statins are right for them.”

The FAQs document explains that recent large reviews of the evidence agree that statins can reduce the chance of heart attack or stroke for people at high risk, whether or not they have had a cardiovascular event before, and regardless of having a high or normal blood cholesterol level.

“It is understandable that people are concerned when doubts are raised about the evidence behind a particular type of medicine, but in the case of statins the evidence is clear,” says Dr Weekes.

The FAQs also address particular concerns about possible statin side effects such as muscle pain or weakness, memory loss, and the risk of diabetes.

Questions answered include:

  • I have been told I am at risk of a heart attack or stroke. How can a statin medicine help?
  • Why can too much cholesterol be harmful?
  • How do statins lower cholesterol?
  • Who should take a statin?
  • Are statins the only way to manage cardiovascular risk?
  • Is it safe to take statins?
  • Can statins cause muscle damage?
  • Will I have memory loss if I take a statin?
  • Do statins cause diabetes?
  • What is the “strong evidence” I keep hearing about statins?
  • I’m still not sure if I should take a statin, what should I do?

To read the Frequently Asked Questions about statins go to www.nps.org.au/statins-faq