Statins are safe and effective to use and their potential side-effects have been exaggerated by unreliable studies, according to a major medical review.
The cholesterol-reducing tablets have been the subject of years of controversy and conflicting reports.
It is thought that around 6m people take them every day but that hundreds of thousands have stopped the life-saving treatment because of fears over how safe they are. It is estimated about 250,000 adults in Ireland take statins, also making them the most prescribed drug in Ireland. These cost the Health Service Executive €130m per year.
A review of the available evidence on statins, published in The Lancet medical journal, has found that the risks of a negative reaction are far outweighed by the benefits.
Too much weight has been placed upon unreliable evidence from observational studies, while the results from randomised drugs trials, which are reliable, have not been properly acknowledged, it stated.
The report has been released in a bid to avert an MMR-style public health scare, when there was a significant decline in the uptake of the vaccine after a report, which has since been completely discredited, linked it to autism.
Dr Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said: “We saw in a very painful way the consequences of publishing a paper which had a huge impact on the confidence in a safe and effective vaccine. We have learnt lessons from that episode and those lessons need to be widely propagated — they are lessons for all journals, all scientists.”
He added: “This is the first time that all of the evidence has been brought together on both safety and benefits into a single publication. So this is a one-stop shop of the evidence on safety and benefits of statins. There has been nowhere where you can get all of that information in a single place.”
The review found that side-effects can include developing muscle pain, diabetes or a haemorrhagic stroke, but suggestions that statins cause other conditions, such as memory loss, cataracts, kidney injury, liver disease, sleep disturbance, aggression, or erectile dysfunction are not accurate.
Oxford University’s Prof Rory Collins, one of the authors of the review, said misleading claims about harmful side-effects was causing a “serious cost to public health”.
He added: “Our review shows that the numbers of people who avoid heart attacks and strokes by taking statin therapy are very much larger than the numbers who have side-effects with it.
“In addition, whereas most of the side-effects can be reversed with no residual effects by stopping the statin, the effects of a heart attack or stroke not being prevented are irreversible and can be devastating.”
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