The study found that despite the increased risk of type 2 diabetes statins still saved lives
Research on statins, the drugs that lower levels of harmful cholesterol and cut the risk of heart disease, has in the past raised concerns that they may increase the risk of developing diabetes. Now a new study, carried out by a team of scientists based at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, USA, and published online in The Lancet, has come up with new findings.
The scientists, led by Professor Paul Ridker, analysed data from 17,603 men and women, none of whom had cardiovascular disease or diabetes. They were divided into two groups, one of which took the statin, the other a placebo. The participants were followed for five years.
This is the first study ever to report that taking statins leads to an increased risk of developing diabetes. The researchers found that participants who were at risk of developing diabetes because they already had at least one risk factor were 28 percent more likely than those with no risk factors to develop diabetes while on statins. There was no increase in the chances of developing the condition for people who had no risk factors.
This isn’t the end of the story, however. Although people already at risk of developing diabetes had an increased risk while taking statins, they were 39% less likely to develop cardiovascular illness, and 17% less likely to die during the period of the study than comparable individuals on a placebo.
“Our results show that in participants with and without diabetes risk, the absolute benefits of statin therapy are greater than the hazards of developing diabetes,” said Professor Ridker. “We believe that most physicians and patients would regard heart attack, stroke and death to be more severe outcomes than the onset of diabetes, and so we hope that these results ease concern about the risks associated with statin therapy when these drugs are appropriately prescribed – in conjunction with improved diet, exercise and smoking cessation – to reduce patients’ risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Judy O’Sullivan, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “As with all drugs, statins bring both benefits and side effects. But statins can save lives. This analysis confirms that the benefits of taking statins far outweigh the side effects for the majority of people who need to take them, including those at increased risk of developing diabetes.
“If you’ve been prescribed statins, you should continue to take them. If you have any concerns about your medication, make sure you speak to your doctor.”
Professor Gerald Watts of the University of Western Australia’s Royal Perth Hospital added this comment. “A major take-home, message for the clinician involved in either primary or secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, is that all individuals on a statin who have major risk factors for diabetes, particularly impaired fasting glucose, need to be informed about the risk, monitored regularly for hyperglycaemia [raised blood glucose], and advised to lose weight and take regular physical exercise to mitigate the emergence of diabetes.”
What are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes?
- Coming from a black, Asian or minority ethnic group and being over 25 years old
- Being white and over 40 years old
- Having a close family member (parent, brother or sister) with type 2 diabetes
- Being overweight – a waist measurement of 31.5 inches or more (women) 35 inches or more (Asian men) and 37 inches or more (white or black men)
- Having high blood pressure or a previous heart attack or stroke
What are the ymptoms of type 2 diabetes?
- Feeling very thirsty and needing to drink a lot
- Having to visit the loo a lot at night to urinate
- Feeling very tired
- Weight loss
If you are concerned that you may have diabetes symptoms, see your GP.
For more information visit the websites below.
British Heart Foundation