Will my statins give me diabetes?

5 March 2015        

A portrait of Professor Peter Weissberg, the BHF Medical Director.

Media reports on new research has suggested taking a statin could increase your risk of diabetes more than previously thought. Should you be worried?

Our Medical Director Professor Peter Weissberg explains the research finding and why he believes it's crucial people keep taking their statins. 

Headline news

News today that statins could increase your risk of type 2 diabetes by nearly a half will doubtless be concerning to many people.

Millions of people currently take the cholesterol lowering drug to reduce their risk of a life-threatening heart attack or stroke.
  
Heart Matters magazine answer the key questions on statins


If you are one of those people taking a statin every day, you may be asking yourself whether it may be doing you more harm than good. I’d like to explain why I believe it’s crucial that people who have been prescribed statins continue to take them. 

The first point to make is that the link between statins and type 2 diabetes is well known. Existing guidelines on who should be recommended a statin reflect the risks of possible side-effects with the cardiovascular benefit to patients. 

What did the new study show?

We should be cautious about the findings

Professor Peter Weissberg
Our Medical Director

What’s new about this study is that the risk appears to be higher than was shown in previous studies. However, there are important reasons why we should be cautious about the findings in the new research which are likely to have over-estimated the real risk of developing diabetes. 


This study was not designed to answer the question ‘do statins increase the risk of developing diabetes?’. To do this you would have to take a population at equivalent risk of developing diabetes and give half of them statins and half of them a placebo and then count the number of people who developed diabetes in each group.

This was a study seeking to identify factors that might increase the risk of developing diabetes over time in a population in which some people (about a quarter of the total) happened to be taking statins. The study found that 1 in 17 people not taking statins developed diabetes, compared with 1 in 9 people on statins.

Early indicators

Statins

They also found that people who developed type 2 diabetes (regardless of whether or not they were taking statins) had more early indicators of the condition at the start of the study than those who didn’t. This suggests that statins may have advanced the onset of type 2 diabetes in those already heading that way. 

The effect was dependent on the dose of the statin. Those on highest doses had the highest risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but people prescribed the highest doses are usually those who already have evidence of heart disease, and it is this group that most needs the protection of statins. 

Lastly, the researchers did not look at outcomes – or what ultimately happened to the people in this study. Evidence from previous studies suggests that patients on statins live longer or more healthily than those not taking a statin, despite developing type 2 diabetes. The studies show that for every new case of diabetes on statins, five heart attacks or strokes are prevented.

Should I take my statins?

Like all effective medicines, statins have some risks. The key question is whether those risks outweigh their benefits. The answer to this question will be different for different people depending on their individual risk of a future heart attack or stroke. This research contributes to our understanding of the relationship between statins and type 2 diabetes, but does not provide a reason for stopping them. 

It’s important that people with existing cardiovascular disease continue to take them as the benefits will far outweigh any risks.

Healthy people taking statins to reduce their future risk of developing heart disease should be taking the lowest effective dose and should be doing all in their power to reduce their future risk of developing diabetes and CVD by not smoking, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight.

If you have any questions about your medication, please speak to your GP or you can contact our helpline.