"This line of research is important because many physicians and other experts in heart disease and cholesterol are familiar with the benefits of statins and other cholesterol drugs, but are unfamiliar with the adverse experiences with these drugs that many people have reported - such as effects on muscle pain or weakness, memory and thinking, or mood," said Beatrice A. Golomb, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Medicine, and head of the UCSD Statin Study.
A statin is any of a class of lipid-lowering drugs that reduce serum cholesterol levels by inhibiting a key enzyme involved in the biosynthesis of cholesterol. Statin cholesterol-lowering drugs are among the most prescribed drugs in the United States. According to Consumer Reports, two such drugs - atorvastatin (Lipitor) and simvastatin (Zocor) - were #1 and #2 best-selling drugs in the country in 2004, with 75 million prescriptions for Lipitor alone. Although pharmaceutical companies report that side effects of statin drugs are rare, there are some patients who experience serious consequences of taking these drugs.
"We received many calls from patients in the community experiencing side effects, and wanting answers about what to expect. We developed this web site as a tool to gather information on side effects, and to help answer these questions," said Golomb.
The site will provide access to a broad group of people, facilitating the opportunity for patients to confidentially share information about their experience, said Golomb, who adds that a comprehensive understanding of the impact of cholesterol-lowering medications, including statins, has not been undertaken. The site also provides information on statin use, including what users can expect and ways in which they can minimize health risks.
Golomb has been actively researching the effects of statin medications for the past seven years. She and the research team at UCSD School of Medicine are currently completing an NIH-funded study of 1,000 subjects to evaluate the effects of statin drugs on cognition, behavior and serotonin biochemistry. According to Golomb, among people who have contacted the UCSD Statin Study to report adverse effects, nearly 60% of patients reported muscle weakness or fatigue, and about half reported cognitive problems.
"We believe it is important to understand the full spectrum of effects, both beneficial and adverse," said Golomb. "Our work is geared toward expanding knowledge of the impact of statins in order to better inform the public and the medical community. By filling out the web site survey, statin patients can help us to help others with the same concerns."