Scientists examining the results of 29 trials involving more than 80,000 people found that only a small minority of side effects are attributable to statins.
Patients were found to have more serious adverse effects from placebos taken as part of a control group than from statins.
According to Britain’s NHS, minor side-effects of taking the drugs include an upset stomach, headache, and insomnia. More serious side-effects are rare but include kidney failure.
Researchers from Imperial College London say of the side-effects assessed — including nausea, kidney disorder, muscular disease and breakdown, insomnia, fatigue, and gastrointestinal disturbance — only the risk of diabetes was found to be slightly raised by the drugs.
The authors of the report, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, are calling on drug regulators to provide clear evidence to patients about claims over side-effects.
They said: “Patients and doctors need clear, reliable information about benefits and risks to make informed decisions.”
The scientists acknowledged many patients taking statins report side-effects, in contrast to the study results.
Researcher Judith Finegold said: “We clearly found that many patients in these trials — whose patients are usually well-motivated volunteers who didn’t know if they were getting a real or placebo tablet — that many did report side-effects while taking placebo.
“In the general population, where patients are being prescribed a statin for an asymptomatic condition, why would it be surprising that even higher rates of side-effects are reported?
“Most people in the general population, if you repeatedly ask them a detailed questionnaire, will not feel perfectly well in every way on every day. Why should they suddenly feel well when taking a tablet after being warned of possible adverse effects?”
Dr Finegold said the report would not necessarily support the wider prescription of statins.
She said: “We believe that patients should be empowered to make their own decisions, but we must make sure they have top quality, unbiased information.
“This is why we call on drug regulators to highlight in the long lists of side-effects those few whose rate is incrementally greater than that experienced with a dummy tablet.”
At present, people in Britain with a 20% risk of developing cardiovascular disease within 10 years are offered statins, but this is being widened to include all people with a 10% risk of developing cardiovascular disease within 10 years.