Stopping Statins: Eight Reasons You Should Not Stop Your Cholesterol Drug

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Lifelong treatment with a medication is a tall order for some people—so it isn’t all that surprising that discontinuation rates are high for some of the most popular cholesterol medications, the statin drugs.

Why is this a problem? If you’re on a drug to lower your cholesterol, you will need to keep taking your prescription or your cholesterol will go back up. Statins in particular can help lower cholesterol up to 60%, but their effects will go away a couple of months after you stop taking them.

Despite their benefits, statins are often discontinued. Serious side effects like rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle fibers) and liver test abnormalities are very rare, but many patients know that statins have been reported to cause muscle pain. Because everyone has muscle pain or joint pain from time to time, blaming the medication is a natural tendency.

Unless you’ve had a serious side effect, here are the reasons you should not stop your statin:

  1. High cholesterol is strongly associated with cardiovascular disease (heart disease) and cardiovascular death.
  2. Statins (atorvastatin, simvastatin, Crestor) decrease mortality rates in patients with high cholesterol. They will help you live longer.
  3. Stopping your statin has been linked to increased risk for cardiovascular events (like heart attack) and death in patients with coronary artery disease.
  4. In a recent 8-year study, more than half of patients stopped their statin believing they were experiencing a side effect. However, when many of them were restarted on the same or on a different statin drug, 90% were fine and still taking it after a year.
  5. Many statin-related side effects may be mild enough to be tolerable. You and your doctor can decide this, and weigh minor side effects against the benefits of continuing to take the statin.
  6. Many statin-related side effects are specific to an individual medication, and it may be worth trying to switch to another drug.
  7. Many reported side effects may not be caused by the medications or may have other causes (muscle pain is a good example).
  8. Permanently stopping statins could lead to preventable cardiovascular events and deaths.

Take home message: 90% of patients who are re-prescribed a statin after a “statin-related” event end up able to take one in the end.

Just sayin’.

Dr O.

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