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Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2016 May;23(8):891-6. doi: 10.1177/2047487315602861. Epub 2015 Aug 28.

Statin tolerability: In defence of placebo-controlled trials.

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Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, UK
Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, New York University School of Medicine, USA.



Statin intolerance is a barrier to effective lipid-lowering treatment. A significant number of patients stop prescribed statins, or can take only a reduced dose, because of adverse events attributed to the statin, and are then considered statin-intolerant.


Examination of differences between statin and placebo in withdrawal rates due to adverse events - a good measure of tolerability - in statin cardiovascular outcome trials in patients with advanced disease and complex medical histories, who may be more vulnerable to adverse effects. The arguments commonly used to dismiss safety and tolerability data in statin clinical trials are examined.


Rates of withdrawal due to adverse events in trials in patients with advanced disease and complex medical histories are consistently similar in the statin and placebo groups. We find no support for arguments that statin cardiovascular outcome trials do not translate to clinical practice.


Given the absence of any signal of intolerance in clinical trials, it appears that statin intolerance in the clinic is commonly due to the nocebo effect causing patients to attribute background symptoms to the statin. Consistent with this, over 90% of patients who have stopped treatment because of an adverse event can tolerate a statin if re-challenged. Consequently, new agents, including monoclonal antibodies to proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9, will be useful when added to statin therapy but should rarely be used as a statin substitute.


PCSK9 antibody; Statin intolerance; nocebo effect; re-challenge; statin muscle effects; statin side effects; stopping statins

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