Are statins really healthy options?

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Doctors often prescribe Lipitor and other statin drugs as cholesterol-lowering drugs and have done so for some time, but the side effects that can lead to their use make satin an unpopular choice for many consumers.

Despite the fact that many statin users experience muscle cramps and other unpleasant reactions, more and more doctors who fear for their patient's heart health are prescribing statins as a preventative measure. In fact, the results of a recent study show that older people who have no history of heart disease are already four times more likely to receive a statin prescription than they would have been in 1999. However, as a preventative drug, statins leave a lot to be desires.

According to a review published in the 2012 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, the amount of problems that can lead to the use of such drugs may mean that the potential health risks far outweigh the potential benefits. The magazine also points to the lack of research conducted on older users.

One of the problems is that statins have been used for so long (nearly 30 years) that their use has become accepted practice. They are also a relatively inexpensive way of trying to reduce cholesterol levels.

Despite the unpleasant disadvantages, some studies suggest that statins may reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke if the patient has experienced any of these in the past. There is also some evidence to suggest that the risk of heart attacks can also be reduced if the patient has high cholesterol – even if there is no history of cardiovascular problems.

Unfortunately, many people who are prescribed satin as a preventative measure do not fall into any group. To make matters worse, research reveals a risk calculator (designed to aid physicians' decisions) often overestimates the degree of risk faced by some patients. Referring to past studies, heart experts at Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic have argued that "being overly dependent on such algorithms can lead to unnecessary statin treatment."

Endocrinologist Robert Eckel (University of Colorado Denver) helped prepare these statin guidelines, but acknowledges that additional research is needed to examine the risks that statins may pose to elderly patients. "It's a gray area," Eckel said. "Based on evidence, medicine only goes so far."

Dr. Michael Johansen (Ohio) also raises some questions about the use of statins and he also suggests that further study is needed. "Most drugs are not backed up by solid clinical evidence to support treatment in the elderly," Johansen said before pointing out that the amount of muscle pain experienced by some statin users is severe enough to cause falls that can lead to life-threatening injuries.

So statins are a healthy remedy for the heart? Perhaps, but they can also create problems and many experts raise questions that suggest that some serious revisions may be in order.

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