High doses of statins could increase risk of kidney problems by 37 per cent, according to a new study in the British Medical Journal.
Statins have been linked to an increased risk of kidney problems
Statins are a group of medicines that lower the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood, reducing risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Around seven million people in Britain are thought to take statins, and the drugs are estimated to save 7,000 lives a year.
However, researchers from the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research in Quebec have found that taking strong doses of particular types of statins increase the risk of being hospitalised with acute kidney injury (AKI).
Acute kidney injury, previously termed acute renal failure, occurs when there is a rapid loss of kidney function.
To reach their conclusion, the Canadian team analysed the health records of two million people. They found that among people without chronic kidney disease, those taking high-dose statins had a 34 per cent increased risk of hospitalisation for AKI than those on low-dose statins.
Whilst the study looked at the first 120 days of treatment specifically, the increased risk seemed to last for two years.
High doses were defined as 40mg+ for simvastatin (the cheapest and most commonly prescribed type), 20mg+ for atorvastatin and 10mg+ for rosuvastatin. Statin doses are prescribed depending on the patient’s cholesterol level.
Patients with pre-existing disease did not have a significant increase in risk if they were taking high potency statins.
More investigation is now needed to establish a biological cause for the link between high dose statins and acute kidney injury, and experts are advising people to speak to their doctor if they feel this study could affect them.
Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: “These researchers have shown that people taking strong statins or high doses of weak statins are at increased risk of developing acute kidney injury, a serious but treatable condition.
“However, episodes of kidney damage are rare and need to be considered alongside the much larger number of heart attacks and strokes that are likely to be prevented by statins.
“It’s always important to take the lowest effective dose of any drug and most people in the UK are on low doses of statins unless there is a compelling medical reason for taking a higher dose.
“Further research is needed to establish whether it is the statins or the underlying blood vessel disease in people taking high doses that causes kidney problems.
“In the meantime, if you have concerns about your prescription, it’s important that you don’t stop taking your medication. Make an appointment with your doctor to talk it through.”
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