Lipitor, Crestor and rival drugs to lower cholesterol also boost diabetes rates by about 9 percent, according to a study that quantified a complication that doctors only recently discovered.
The drugs, which generated $34 billion in 2008 sales, prevent heart attacks, strokes and death, and their benefits outweigh the diabetes risk, said lead researcher David Preiss, a research fellow at the University of Glasgow. The pills were linked to one additional case of diabetes and prevented five heart attacks and deaths for every 1,000 patients who took them for a year, he said.
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The researchers analyzed 13 studies of the medicines known as statins after a 2008 trial from London-based AstraZeneca unexpectedly found patients given its drug Crestor had a 25 percent higher risk of diabetes. The new analysis involving more than 90,000 patients, published in the journal Lancet, shows the actual increase in diabetes is 9 percent, the risk is tied to the entire class of medications and the danger increases with age.
"Even though there is a slight risk more than what we knew before, it's still a reassuring message," Preiss said. "We're not talking a huge risk at all, and what we don't want people to do is take this as a sign to stop taking statin therapy."
Patients and doctors should also be aware of the potential risk and adjust treatment if the drugs' potential benefits no longer outweigh the risk, they said.