Patients with high cholesterol levels who are taking high-potency statins like Crestor may want to check with their doctors to be sure their kidneys are healthy. A recent study indicates that powerful statins like Crestor may increase the risk of kidney problems. Simple urine and blood tests can help determine the function of the kidneys, helping doctors and patients to monitor use of statin medications.
High-Potency Statins Increase Risk of Kidney Problems
For the study, researchers from across Canada compared patients who were taking high-potency statins, including rosuvastatin (Crestor at 10 mg or higher), atorvastatin (Lipitor at 20 mg or higher), and simvastatin (Zocor at 40 mg or higher), to those who were taking low-potency statins. The records from a total of 2 million people were reviewed, all over the age of 40, with a mean age of 68 years.
The results, published in the British Medical Journal, showed that high-potency statin users were 34 percent more likely to be hospitalized for acute kidney injury than those on low potency statins in the first 120 days of treatment. The risks remained elevated for two years after initiation.
Researchers aren’t sure why statins may affect the health of the kidneys, though the medications are known to also increase risk of liver damage and muscle pain or weakness. They are advising patients, however, to take the lowest dose possible to achieve therapeutic goals. Signs of kidney injury may include dark urine, difficulty urinating, or less frequent urination.
Prescriptions Increasing Despite Risks
This latest study is one of many that have highlighted the potential risks with statins. Researchers reported in a 2012 issue of Lancet, for example, that patients with risk factors for diabetes are significantly more likely than others to develop the disease when taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.
High-dose statins are also more likely to cause muscle pain and tenderness, which in severe cases can result in the breakdown of muscle fibers, called "rhabdomyolysis." This condition can also, in turn, lead to kidney damage, as waste products from the injured muscles overwhelm the kidneys.
Yet according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, doctors often prescribe statins even to patients with a low risk of heart disease. These prescriptions were given despite the serious risks of side effects.
"With patients who don’t have heart disease," said lead study author Dr. Michael Johansen, "talking to their doctor about the risks and benefits of (statins) as well as alternative treatments and ways to change lifestyle is going to be important." The study authors added that doctors may not be considering the risks when deciding whether or not to prescribe a statin.
In June 2011, the FDA restricted the use of the 80 mg dose of Zocor, because of the risk of muscle injury, warning doctors that no new patients should be put on this dose. Meanwhile, many plaintiffs have filed lawsuits claiming that the statin drug makers failed to provide adequate warnings about the risks.
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