By: Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – In the United States, you need a prescription to get a cholesterol lowering medicine, and that’s for good reason. A broad analysis reinforced that safeguard.

In Great Britain, people can get cholesterol lowering medicines, called statins, over the counter.

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“I don’t think having statins over the counter is a good idea at all,” says Dr. Tony Farah, a cardiologist at Allegheny General Hospital.

With more focus on a slight benefit, with little attention to side effects, a review shows drug company funded studies presented cherry picked data to get the nod for such widespread use.

“We see all comers, in reality, in practice, whereas in the studies, it’s a select population of patients,” says Dr. Farah. “The majority of my cardiac patients are on them and they’re fine, but there are side effects that could become more serious.”

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The drugs are safe, but some people can have muscle problems and joint aches, and rarely kidney damage. And there can be interactions with other drugs and herbs, where seemingly safe doses become dangerous.

A study by an international organization that evaluates medical research looked at 14 trials testing statins in more than 34,000 people. The analysis shows for every 1,000 people taking this type of drug for one year, instead of nine deaths, there would only be eight.

Based on this, the researchers are saying the use of statins should not be routine, especially for people at low risk.

“The lower the risk, the lower the benefit. So you do reach a point where if someone is very low risk, it probably isn’t necessary and then you can cause harm,” Dr. Farah says.

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For people at risk, these drugs are of benefit. These are people with known heart disease, or known risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, family history, and high cholesterol numbers.