Nearly 10% of Americans are currently taking a prescription medication to reduce their cholesterol, and a class of drug called statins represent more than half of these prescriptions. However, a few recent studies had suggested that statins may be associated with memory problems, and this had caused some patients to change to a different medication.
The most recent study, however, finds that there is really no need to avoid taking statins because of worries about memory if a doctor prescribes them to prevent cholesterol build up. In research published in JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday, Dr. Brian Strom, the chancellor of biomedical and health sciences at Rutgers University, and fellow researchers argue that while statins may contribute to short term memory issues, most memory problems get better over the long term and that these kind of memory issues are also associated with other drugs for cardio-related conditions.
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New more robust study shows minimal memory loss from statins
Keep in mind that previous studies had suggested a possible memory loss from statins, but the earlier research just compared statin users to non-statin users. The new study includes another group for comparison: those prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs that were not statins. In their very large sample of of 482,543 statin users, 26,484 users of non-statin cholesterol-lowering drugs and 482,543 controls who weren’t on any drugs, Strom and colleagues discovered that both cholesterol-lowering drug groups showed short-term memory problems in the first 30 days after they started taking the drugs (compared to the controls). The increased incidence of memory lapses was four-fold for statin users, and 3.6-fold for those who were using other cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Given that both groups in the study taking drugs showed similar memory effects, it’s unlikely that statins are the only factor in the short-term cognitive issues. Moreover, because statins and the other cholesterol-lowering drugs have completely different mechanisms, the effect cannot be unequivocally blamed on the drugs themselves.
The study researchers suggest that short-term memory issues found in both groups are the result of these patients being more aware of and sensitive to any changes in their personal state when inititiating a new medication. That is, some people may be having memory issues even before they began their medications, and the problems might well have happened even if they had not begun taking the drugs.
Moreover, the symptoms could become more noticeable because the patients were more focused on changes after filling their new prescription. The control group could have been having similar memory issues, but didn’t tell their doctors so the problems were not recorded. “People on new medicines are more likely to notice a problem, more likely to blame problems on the drug and more likely to go back to the doctor and report these problems,” Strom points out.