It is believed there are between seven and 10 million Britons using statins. Most people take the cholesterol-lowering drug to prevent or delay their first stroke or heart attack. While use of the drug is usually well tolerated, some complications involving the eye could arise.
One JAMA study found that people taking statins were about 36 percent more likely to have cataracts compared to individuals who don’t take the drug.
After accounting for all underlying factors, the team concluded that statins users were 27 percent more likely to develop cataracts.
Cataracts are cloudy patches in the eye which can caused blurred vision, and lead to blindness if left untreated.
The researchers argued that cholesterol might be needed to maintain a clear lens in the eyes, and statins might interfere with that process.
Doctor Deepak Bhatt a Harvard Medical School professor, who did not partake in the study, said: “Even if the increase in risk for cataracts observed in this study is real, it was a small excess risk in a condition that can be easily identified and treated versus the reduction in heart attack risk that statins are known to provide, at leas in people who are elevated risk of heart attacks.”
The study, however, was unable to prove a causal effect between statin use and cataracts. It only determined an association.
Statins are usually well tolerated, however it has been widely reported that the drug can cause unwanted side effects.
Muscle pain and diabetes, are two of the more common side effects, affecting an estimated one in 100 people taking the drug.
However, a study published earlier this year stated that statins are general not the cause of muscle pains and aches.
The study funded by the National Institute of Health Research showed that people had the same symptoms whether they were taking statins or dummy pills that looked and tasted just like it.
Other reported side effects include kidney, liver disease and nightmares.
The drug works by lowering cholesterol levels, thereby stabilising the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries.
These builds are usually what cause the ruptures and blockages that lead to a heart attack or stroke.
There are two million people in the UK at higher risk for heart attacks who are eligible for statins, however many are reluctant to take the drug due to widespread reports of muscle pain.
Latest NHS prescribing analysis states that if 10,000 people took statins for primary prevention for five years, there would be 500 fewer strokes and heart attacks.
The NHS states: “You should discuss the benefits and risks of taking statins with your doctor before taking the medicine.
“If you find that certain side effects particularly troublesome, talk to the doctor in charge of your care.”
The NHS recommends maintaining cholesterol levels below 5mmol/L.
In the UK, however, three out of five adults have a total cholesterol of 5mmol/L or above, and the average cholesterol levels is about 5.7mmol/L, which can be a risk factors in heart disease.
There are alternative ways, beyond statin use, that individuals can reduce their cholesterol naturally, notably by adopting a diet rich in fibre.