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Side Effects of Statins?

Posted on June 17, 2020 | No Comments on Side Effects of Statins?

Question: My mom is taking atorvastatin for high cholesterol. She’s getting to be more forgetful lately. Is it true that it can make her lose memory?

Answer: Statins have certainly changed the face of cardiovascular disease management. These have been prescribed not just to lower cholesterol but also to prevent onset or recurrence of heart attacks and stroke. In clinical studies, statins have dramatically reduced cardiovascular illness and death by some 40 to 50 percent.

In February, 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated that statins add to their warning labels the side effects which may include, among others, possible memory loss.

According to the FDA, “the reports about memory loss, forgetfulness and confusion span all statin products and all age groups.” The products include: atorvastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin, and simvastatin.

The adverse events were quite rare and not serious. People often reported feeling “fuzzy” or “unfocused in their thinking”. The symptoms usually disappeared within a few weeks of stopping the statin. Some affected people have been taking it for a day, while others, for years.

For the most part, evidence in the medical literature about the cognitive effects of statins have been conflicting.

Animal studies in mice and beagles have shown that statins improved brain blood vessel reactivity, enhanced learning, restored short and long-term memory, even rescued deficits in various models of Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injury. These were especially seen with the lipophilic (fat-soluble) statins such as simvastatin and atorvastatin rather than the hydrophilic (water-soluble) ones such as rosuvastatin and pravastatin. Since brain is a very fatty organ, lipophilic statins were able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier better.

Reports of cognitive impairment in humans have mostly been from observational studies such as case reports and case series. Majority of randomized controlled trials and observational studies however, showed either a beneficial or neutral effect of statins on mental function.

Other side effects of statins include liver abnormalities, muscle aches or injury, and increased risk for diabetes.
What is a patient to do? First of all, consult your physician.

Your mom will need to undergo a thorough evaluation to uncover the cause of her forgetfulness. If it turns out to be statin-related, the risks and benefits of taking statins then need to be analyzed. If the harm of taking the statin outweighs its gains then it may need to be stopped. An alternative may be to switch from a lipholic to a hydrophilic statin which is less likely to enter the blood-brain barrier.

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