Statins that are taken daily by millions of people to control cholesterol could dramatically increase the risk of kidney damage, researchers have warned.
They said that high doses of the wonder drugs, prescribed to prevent heart disease and stroke, are linked to higher rates of acute kidney injury.
The risk is highest in the first 120 days of treatment and stays raised for at least two years after patients start taking the pills, they stated.
Leading doctors are now warning that the drugs should only be prescribed at a low dose where possible.
Researchers from University of British Columbia and the Lady Davis Institute at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal studied more than two million statin users and found that patients taking higher strength pills were more at risk of suffering acute kidney injury.
They were at a 34 per cent greater danger of being hospitalised with kidney problems within 120 days of starting treatment with high-dose statins than low-dose pills.
About one in 500 patients were hospitalised for acute kidney injury within a period of up to two years – the length of the study – after starting a lower strength statin, according to study.
Acute kidney injury, or acute renal failure, is the term used when the kidneys cannot remove salt, water and waste products from the blood.
Dr Pierre Ernst, professor of medicine at the McGill University Centre for Clinical Epidemiology in Montreal, who was involved in the research, noted that they are not saying that people should stop taking statins.
“If you are giving patients a high dose statin, let’s make sure there is a good reason. A high dose might be beneficial for those who have had a heart attack or have high cholesterol, and then they are life-saving. But for the 40-year-old woman who exercises, doesn’t have high blood pressure and only slightly raised cholesterol, there is no need to put her on a high dose,” Dr Ernst stated.
However, Prof Peter Weissberg, British Heart Foundation medical director, said noted thta further research is needed to establish whether it is the statins or the underlying blood vessel disease in people taking high doses that causes kidney problems.
Statins considered to be high potency were rosuvastatin at doses of 10mg or higher, atorvastatin at doses of 20mg or higher, and simvastatin at doses of 40mg or more.