Commercials Increase Statin Use Among Healthy Watchers: Study

A recent study suggests that aggressive marketing and television advertising for Lipitor and other popular cholesterol drugs may be causing individuals with a relatively low risk of heart disease to start taking the blockbuster medications, while individuals at a higher risk for heart disease often ignore the advertisements.  

The research reviewed the effects of advertisements involving a class of cholesterol drugs known as statins, which include Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor and others. The medications are among the top selling drugs in the United States, generating nearly $15 billion in combined annual sales.

According to a study published last month in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers found that exposure to ads for the heavily marketed drugs increased the odds of individuals being diagnosed with high cholesterol and increased the likelihood that someone would begin using the drugs. However, those new users were largely individuals who were at low risk for suffering heart disease, which is the primary reason for the medications.

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The findings come amid growing concerns about the widespread use of statins, including potential side effects that may increase the risk of diabetes, muscle injury, kidney damage and other health problems.

Researchers from Cornell University looked at data on more than 100,000 adults and data on the frequency of direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) on television from 2001 to 2007. They found that exposure to television commercials for drugs like Lipitor and Crestor increased the odds of being diagnosed with high cholesterol by 16% to 20%.

Among both men and women, seeing the ads increased the chances of using statins by 16% to 22%, but those who began using statins after watching the commercials were almost exclusively those at low risk of heart disease.

“This study provides new evidence that DTCS may promote over-diagnosis of high cholesterol and over-treatment for populations where risks of statin use may outweigh potential benefits,” the researchers concluded.

Statin Diabetes Risks

Statins use the liver to block the body’s creation of cholesterol, which is a key contributor to coronary artery disease.

In February 2012, the FDA announced it was requiring new diabetes warnings for Lipitor and other similar statins, informing users for the first time that they may face an increased risk of changes to blood glucose levels.

A study published last month in the medical journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, found that statin users overall face about a 9% increase in the risk of diabetes.

Pfizer currently faces a mounting number of Lipitor diabetes lawsuits that have been brought by women who allege they were not adequately warned about the impact of the medication on blood sugar levels. In many of the complaints, plaintiffs claim that they began taking Lipitor to maintain their health lifestyle, but now they have been left with serious health complications from diabetes.


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