July 24, 2008

Cholesterol Drug’s Side Effects May Be Avoided By Testing

By Alicia Chang / The Associated Press

Scientists may have found a way to test for and possibly avoid the most serious side effect of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, one of the top-selling medicines in the world.

In rare cases, statins can cause muscle pain and weakness. Researchers have identified a genetic variation that seems to predict more than half of these cases of side effects.

The finding raises hope that a test could be developed to screen heart patients to find out who is at greatest risk.

Normally, muscle weakness caused by statins affects 1 out of 10,000 patients a year.

But doctors say having this knowledge doesn't mean the millions taking statins should be tested, especially those who are having no problem.

"I would recommend extreme caution in testing for this," said Dr. James Stein, a University of Wisconsin-Madison cardiologist who had no role in the research.

"It could potentially lead to people not taking lifesaving drugs just because there's an excess risk" of a side effect.

genetic variation

People on statins who have the variant were about five to 17 times more likely to develop muscle problems, a serious side effect that can lead to muscle breakdown, kidney failure and death.


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