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  1. ITV Report

Statins are safe and side-effects exaggerated, major review finds

Statins are safe according to a major medical review. Credit: ITV News

Statins are safe and effective, and their potential side-effects have been exaggerated by unreliable studies, according to a major medical review.

The cholesterol-reducing tablets are taken by around six million people in the UK everyday. They are often prescribed to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks or strokes.

Statins are the most prescribed drug in the UK, but hundreds of thousands of people have stopped the life-saving treatment over fears of how safe they are.

For years statins have been subject to controversy and conflicting reports, but a review of all the available evidence has found that the risks of a negative reaction are far outweighed by the benefits.

The side-effects of statins have been exaggerated, the report has found. Credit: ITV

In the past, too much weight has been placed upon unreliable evidence from observational studies, while the results from randomised drugs trials, which are reliable, have not been properly acknowledged, the study in The Lancet medical journal said.

The "one-stop shop" of evidence has been compiled in a bid to avert an MMR-style public health scare, when there was a significant decline in the uptake of the vaccine after a report, which has since been completely discredited, linked it to autism.

We saw in a very painful way the consequences of publishing a paper which had a huge impact on the confidence in a safe and effective vaccine.

We have learnt lessons from that episode and those lessons need to be widely propagated - they are lessons for all journals, all scientists.

– Dr Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet

While the review found that side-effects can include developing muscle pain, diabetes or a haemorrhagic stroke, but suggestions that statins cause other conditions, such as memory loss, cataracts, kidney injury, liver disease, sleep disturbance, aggression or erectile dysfunction, are not accurate.

Oxford University's Professor Rory Collins, one of the authors of the review, said misleading claims about harmful side-effects was causing a "serious cost to public health".

He added: "Our review shows that the numbers of people who avoid heart attacks and strokes by taking statin therapy are very much larger than the numbers who have side-effects with it.

"In addition, whereas most of the side-effects can be reversed with no residual effects by stopping the statin, the effects of a heart attack or stroke not being prevented are irreversible and can be devastating."

The major medical review has found statins to be safe. Credit: PA

Statins facts

  • What are statins?

Statins help to lower harmful cholesterol levels in the body and help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks or strokes.

  • How many people take statins?

Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in the UK and it is thought around six million in the country have been prescribed statins.

  • When are statins prescribed?

The current NHS recommendation is that you should be offered statins if you have been diagnosed with a 10% or more chance of developing heart disease over 10 years or have had a heart attack in the past.

  • How do statins work?

Statins help lower the levels of harmful cholesterol in the blood and reduce how much is produced by the liver.

They are normally used in combination with lifestyle measures such as eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat, exercising regularly, stopping smoking and moderating alcohol consumption.

  • How much do they cost?

Statins cost about £2 for a month's course.