Treatments

Cholesterol Drugs Raise Diabetes Risk, But Not Enough To Stop Taking Them

If you're taking a cholesterol-fighting drug (and these days who isn't?), then you might be surprised to find out that commonly prescribed medicines can raise the odds you'll get diabetes.

Pills arranged in the shape of a heart.

Cholesterol-fighting pills may heighten the risk of diabetes, especially in older people. iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com

But don't throw your Lipitor or simvastatin in the trash just yet. The increased diabetes risk from taking the medicines called statins amounts to about 9 percent, which researchers say is pretty low.

Hard to wrap you head around how big or small the danger might be? Try looking at it this way: 255 people would have to take statins for four years before one of them would become diabetic.

Over the same period, the data show the drugs would prevent more than five deaths or heart attacks and about the same number of strokes or medical procedures to open up clogged arteries.

The findings come from an analysis of 13 previously published clinical tests of statins involving more than 91,000 people. The work was just published online by the medical journal Lancet.

In a accompanying editorial, Harvard cardiologist Christopher Cannon wrote that while a "new risk of statins has been identified, the risk seems small and far outweighed by the benefits of this life-saving class of drugs."

One important detail on the risk: it was mostly a problem in people age 60 and older. The particular drug didn't seem to make a big difference—all the statins the researchers looked at increased the odds for developing diabetes slightly.

For safety's sake the researchers suggest that older people taking the medicine should be monitored for diabetes, if they aren't being tested for it already. For people at low risk of developing heart disease, the findings may warrant more careful consideration of starting the drugs.

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