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Patients and doctors need clear, reliable information

Statins used by as many as 7 million people in the UK, are virtually free of side effects according to a new report.

Currently prescribed as a cholesterol-lowering drug statins help to prevent conditions such as strokes and heart attacks which can lead to reduced mobility and leave sufferers in need of assistance in the home.

Scientists from Imperial College Londons National Heart and Lung Institute analysed the findings of 29 trials involving over 80,000 statin users.

They found that overall, statins only marginally increased the danger of diabetes alone. Other talked-about side effects such as nausea, kidney disorder, muscular disease and breakdown, insomnia, fatigue and gastrointestinal disturbance, all proved negative. The NHS has previously cited potential kidney failure as a serious side effect of taking statins, along with an upset stomach, headaches or insomnia as minor ones. But the new study showed that only a small minority of adverse effects can be put down to statins.

This has prompted the researchers to urge drug regulators to offer clearer evidence to patients about such claims.

The study's authors said: "Patients and doctors need clear, reliable information about benefits and risks to make informed decisions."

Patients were actually found to suffer more serious side effects from placebos - or "dummy" drugs - consumed as part of a control group than from the statins.

Dr Judith Finegold, who helped implement the study, said: "Most people in the general population, if you repeatedly ask them a detailed questionnaire, will not feel perfectly well in every way on every day. Why should they suddenly feel well when taking a tablet after being warned of possible adverse effects?" She said the findings would not automatically strengthen the argument for more widespread prescription of statins.

Dr. Finegold said: "We believe that patients should be empowered to make their own decisions, but we must first make sure they have top quality, unbiased information." That is why, she said, the report's authors are urging drug regulators to highlight in the long lists of side effects only those few whose rate is incrementally higher than that seen with a dummy tablet.

The study is published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

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