Should you take cholesterol drugs? Your doctor may have asked himself the same question.
Most experts believe the drugs are cheap and effective, and clinical trials have found few side effects.
However, many people who are prescribed statins — as many as 25 percent — complain of muscle pain and quit taking them, says the New York Times
Other patients complain of memory or sleep problems, which are side effects that haven't turned up in studies.
Now, a new category of cholesterol-lowering drug has been approved by the FDA this summer. The new type reduces cholesterol more than statin drugs, but is very expensive.
Two drugs, marketed as Repatha and Praluent, are approved for patients who have extremely high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) because of heredity, and those who have high levels of cholesterol and a history of stroke and other cardiovascular problems.
So, doctors have a new dilemma: Should they prescribe the new class of drugs which cost more than $14,000 a year, knowing patients will probably be on them for the rest of their lives, to patients who say they can't tolerate statins?
Mayo Clinic physician Dr. Stephen L. Kopecky directs a program for statin-intolerant patients.
Although he believes statin drugs are blamed for problems that may have other causes, he still thinks statin intolerance is real when he can't find a cause for muscle aches and other problems patients attribute to them.
"How can I not believe them? he asks the New York Times
Doctors say new types of cholesterol-lowering treatments are needed. Current statin drugs don't lower cholesterol levels enough, and many other patients who need them can't take them.
The new drugs use antibodies to block an enzyme that controls levels of LDL, and they lower cholesterol to unprecedented levels.
Still, the large-scale studies that will evaluate both their effectiveness and safety aren't due until 2017.
So, should doctors prescribe an expensive drug that's likely to drive up healthcare costs, especially when numerous studies haven't found statins to produce the side effects patients complain of?
Some doctors, including Dr. Kopecky, believe that, for now, they must go on a case-by-case basis.
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