Statins slightly increase risk of cataracts, liver dysfunction, kidney failure and muscle weakness

Statins do NOT prevent a long list of diseases

Statins were not significantly associated with risk of Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, venous thromboembolism, dementia, osteoporotic fracture, gastric cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, renal cancer, breast cancer, or prostate cancer.

Statins may decrease risk of esophageal cancer

Statin use was associated with decreased risks of oesophageal cancer.

Statins slightly increase the risk of liver dysfunction, kidney failure, muscle weakness and cataracts

Statin use was associated with increased risks of moderate or serious liver dysfunction, acute renal failure, moderate or serious myopathy, and cataract.

Is the risk the same with all statins?

Adverse effects were similar across statin types for each outcome except liver dysfunction where risks were highest for fluvastatin.

A dose-response effect was apparent for acute renal failure and liver dysfunction. All increased risks persisted during treatment and were highest in the first year.

How long does the risk last?

After stopping treatment the risk of cataract returned to normal within a year in men and women. Risk of acute renal failure returned to normal within 1-3 years in men and women, and liver dysfunction within 1-3 years in women and from three years in men.

What was the NNT and NNH?

Based on the 20% threshold for cardiovascular risk, for women the NNT with any statin to prevent one case of cardiovascular disease over five years was 37 and for oesophageal cancer was 1266 and for men the respective values were 33 and 1082.

In women the NNH for an additional case of acute renal failure over five years was 434, of moderate or severe myopathy was 259, of moderate or severe liver dysfunction was 136, and of cataract was 33. Overall, the NNHs and NNTs for men were similar to those for women, except for myopathy where the NNH was 91.


Claims of unintended benefits of statins, except for oesophageal cancer, remain unsubstantiated, although potential adverse effects at population level were confirmed and quantified.

Interestingly, the BMJ abstract did not mention increased diabetes risk that was reported in a previous study published in The Lancet.

Balancing the intended and unintended effects of statins. BMJ 2010; 340:c2240 doi: 10.1136/bmj.c2240 (Published 20 May 2010).
Image source: Simvastatin. Wikipedia, public domain.

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