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Dec 11, 2015

Negative Press for Statins Discourages Patients from Taking Their Meds

Not taking cholesterol-lowering statins as prescribed means higher risk for heart attack and death.

A recent study published in the European Heart Journal analyzed the impact of statin-related news stories on medication adherence—which means taking medications as prescribed—and patient outcomes. Statins are strongly recommended for patients with high cholesterol—one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Not only are statins both safe and effective for lowering cholesterol, they significantly reduce risk for heart disease, heart attack and death.

However, statins can cause mild side effects like muscle aches, especially in the first few months after starting the drug. Combined with negative stories in the media, experts worry that patients may be more inclined to stop taking statins, which may negatively impact outcomes.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from a national Danish registry, which contains health information on the entire Danish population. Among Danish adults aged 40 or older, nearly 675,000 patients started statin therapy between 1995 and 2010. During this period, statin use increased from 1% to 11%. However, the proportion of patients that discontinued statin use within the first six months tripled between 1995 and 2010.

During the same time period, there were nearly 2,000 statin-related news stories—110 of which were considered negative. Researchers found that negative press was significantly related to people stopping taking their statins. Patients were 9% more likely to discontinue statins when negative news stories came out and 8% less likely to discontinue statins when there was positive news coverage.

Most concerning is the impact that statin discontinuation had on patient outcomes. After following patients through 2011, researchers found that patients discontinuing statins within the first six months had 26% greater risk of heart attack and 18% greater risk of death than those who remained on the medication.

Findings highlight the importance of both statin use and open communication between patients and their doctors. There’s no question that statins are one of the most effective treatments for high cholesterol. Although high cholesterol doubles risk for heart disease, lowering cholesterol significantly reduces risk of serious complications. Statins are an important way to help lower cholesterol and improve outcomes.

When patients experience side effects from medications like statins, it’s important that patients work with their doctors on their treatment plan. Rather than discontinuing use altogether, adjusting the dose or trying a new type of statin can often fix the problem. So when patients experience side effects or read concerning news stories, it’s important that patients first consult with their doctors before making any decisions regarding treatment.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are statins?
  • Statins are drugs used to lower cholesterol. They help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol, which can help prevent heart attack and stroke. Statins prevent your body from making new cholesterol and may help reduce the amount of plaque already built up on artery walls.
  • What is medication adherence?
  • Medication adherence means taking the proper dose of medication at the right time and in the right way for as long as you're supposed to. Taking a medication incorrectly or not at all can render the drug ineffective, or worse, have a negative effect on your health.

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LDL – the bad cholesterol. LDL is the cholesterol that gums up your arteries and causes the buildup of blockages. It’s also the cholesterol that is toxic to the lining of your arteries, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.


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