FDA recently announced that there are two new negative side effects that will be added to labels for statin drugs such as Lipitor, Mevacor, and Zocor. These additional risks include elevated risk of type 2 diabetes and potential memory problems.
Statins work by slowing your body’s production of cholesterol. Your body produces all the cholesterol it needs for digesting food and producing new cells on its own. When this natural production is slowed, your body begins to draw the cholesterol it needs from the food you eat, lowering your total cholesterol.
The increase risk for type 2 diabetes involves the possible increase in elevated blood sugar levels.
The warning involving memory issues is rarer. The memory loss involved people older than 50 and ceased when the drug was not taken.
Other side effects of statins according to the Mayo Clinic are:
Muscle pain and damage
The most common statin side effect is muscle pain. You may feel this pain as a soreness, tiredness or weakness in your muscles. The pain can be a mild discomfort, or it can be severe enough to make your daily activities difficult. For example, you might find climbing stairs or walking to be uncomfortable or tiring.
Rarely, statin use could cause your liver to increase its production of enzymes that help you digest food, drinks and medications. If the increase is only mild, you can continue to take the drug. Rarely, if the increase is severe, you may need to stop taking the drug. Your doctor might suggest a different statin. Certain other cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as gemfibrozil (Lopid) and niacin (Niacor, Niaspan), increase the risk of liver problems even more in people who take statins.
Some people taking a statin may develop nausea, gas, diarrhea or constipation after taking a statin. These side effects are rare. Most people who have these side effects already have other problems with their digestive system. Taking your statin medication in the evening with a meal can reduce digestive side effects.
Rash or flushing
Patients could develop a rash or flushing after you start taking a statin. If you take a statin and niacin, either in a combination pill such as Simcor or as two separate medications, you’re more likely to have this side effect. Taking aspirin before taking your statin medication may help, but talk to your doctor first.
Increased blood sugar or type 2 diabetes
It’s possible your blood sugar (blood glucose) level may increase when you take a statin, which may lead to developing type 2 diabetes. The risk is small, but important enough that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning on statin labels regarding blood glucose levels and diabetes. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
Neurological side effects
Some researchers have studied whether statins could be linked to memory loss or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. While there’s little evidence that statins can cause ALS, the FDA warns on statin labels that some patients have developed memory loss or confusion while taking statins. These side effects reverse once you stop taking the medication. Talk to your doctor if you experience memory loss or confusion. Don’t stop taking your statin medication before talking to your doctor.
Statins are prescribed when high cholesterol cannot be controlled with lifestyle changes through improved eating practices and regular exercise. If you and your doctor decide to include statins, these healthy lifestyle changes should be included.