Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes
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Statins are designed to lower baseline levels of cholesterol, helping prevent major cardiac events like stroke or heart attack. The extent of the drug’s side effects, however, put some people off taking it. Muscle-related complications are the most common complaints to arise from the therapy. In rare instances, damage can become irreversible.
In Britain, statins are prescribed to people deemed at risk for heart disease.
The drug is hailed among the scientific community for its ability to lower concentrations of LDL cholesterol by a staggering 40 percent or more.
In some studies, the drug has been found to produce antibodies that attack the muscle, which is known as myositis.
Some medical sources explain myositis may resolve if the statin is stopped, but sometimes it continues and it is necessary to use steroids to bring it under control. Some types of myositis, however, may be irreversible.
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The Myositis website describes the disease as a chronic debilitating condition that can be broken down into several forms.
The most worrying type is necrotising myositis, which does not resolve after the statin is stopped, the website explains.
When a patient’s myositis is labelled necrotising, it is because a biopsy shows less inflammation in the muscle tissue, but rather evidence of muscle cell death, or necrosis.
The website adds: “[This leaves] patients with life-long changes doing even simple things like standing from a seated position, and even lifting their arms over their heads.”
Christina Charles-Schoeman, UCLA rheumatologist and myositis specialist: “Luckily, this is a very rare disease and does not occur for the vast majority of patients taking statins.”
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Symptoms of myositis, include difficulty climbing stairs, fatigue after walking for a long time, or trouble swallowing or breathing.
Sudden onset of muscle pain may be indicative of the disease, particular if symptoms do not clear within a few weeks.
Cedars Sinai adds: “While each myositis condition has its own unique characteristics and treatments, all of them involve chronic muscle inflammation
“This inflammation usually results in muscle fatigue and weakness, frequent falling, swelling of the feet and legs, and muscular joint pain.”
The health body continues: “Treatments may include both non-drug and drug-based therapies, including medications such as immunosuppressants or corticosteroids, which slow the body’s immune system and reduce the body’s attack on its muscles, skin and organs.”
Some patients may require physical therapy for the rehabilitation of their muscles, and help improve their quality of life.
Other side effects
Although the majority of statin side effects are seen as a deterrent, not all of them are negative.
Statins have in some cases been found to induce cell death – known medically as apoptosis – which helps eradicate proliferating cancer cells.
The process is generally used during early development to eliminate unwanted cells; for example, those between the fingers of a developing hand.
In adults, apoptosis is induced by the body to rid it of cells that have been damaged beyond repair.
This discovery led scientists to investigate the effect of statins on the risk of cancer, and the results hold promise.
According to research published in 2021, taking statins before and after a cancer diagnosis was associated with a reduced number of deaths overall and a reduction in incidence rates.
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