Several years ago a senior named Sally Bell, started noticing weakness and achiness in her legs. “Maybe I’m not working out enough,” she thought. But then again, perhaps something else was wrong. “Yes, I’m older and I’m more sedentary than I used to be, but I’m not that out of shape,” says Bell. Finally, she talked to her doctor. That’s when she realized she was experiencing side effects from the statin drug she’d started taking. She stopped the drug and saw an almost immediate improvement. But even today, some of the damage remains.
Bell was one of the millions of Americans prescribed a daily statin. More than one-quarter of all U.S. adults 40 and over — and nearly 50 percent of people over 65 — now take one of these medications, which lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and also tamp down body-wide inflammation, a major factor in heart disease and other chronic conditions such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
When statins first gained popularity for lowering cholesterol, doctors joked about putting them in the water supply. Now, despite the fact that statins are among the most-prescribed drugs in America (Lipitor currently tops the sales charts), guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) could greatly expand the number of people taking them. However, some doctors are criticizing the more aggressive position, citing concerns about side effects and the efficacy of the medications.
The USPSTF is now recommending that adults aged 40 to 75 should be put on a low-to-moderate dose of a statin — even if they have no history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) — if they have one or more risk factors for the disease and a 10% or greater risk of a heart attack or stroke within the next 10 years as a result. These risk factors include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes.