Purpose of review: To examine the evidence for the adverse effects that have been reported during the use of statins.
Recent findings: We now have over twenty years of prescription use and many large well controlled trials with statin therapy for hypercholesterolemia. There is only one significant and well documented adverse effect with this group of drugs, rhabdomyolysis. Significant muscle damage is very rare when statin therapy is used in patients carefully screened for concomitant use of other drugs which may interfere with statin catabolism and excretion. Patients with severely impaired liver function are also at risk due to the importance of hepatic excretion of all statins. Chronic myalgias or other pain syndromes have not been confirmed by blinded placebo controlled trials. A significant and reproducible rise in liver enzymes (alanine and aspartate aminotransferases) is observed in 1 to 3% of patients but actual liver damage may not occur at all. Benign and transient proteinuria occurs without evidence of altered renal function. Creatinine clearance is usually increased by statins. Peripheral neuropathy may be a rare adverse effect and this needs further study.
Summary: Statins are very effective at reducing the incidence of myocardial infarction, stroke and other manifestations of vascular disease. The adverse event rates are very uncommon and the benefit risk ratio is extremely high.