Harvard Heart Letter

No more routine liver tests for statin users

Most people taking statins are accustomed to having routine blood tests to watch for uncommon but serious liver-related side effects. But the rare cases of liver damage from statins aren't accurately predicted by routine blood testing. So, in March, the FDA recommended blood tests for liver function only when a person first starts taking a statin or if symptoms arise.

At the same time, the FDA strengthened label warnings on statins for two other possible side effects: increased blood sugar and temporary memory or cognitive lapses. The blood sugar concerns are supported by study data, while hard data on memory effects are still being collected. The risk of side effects seems to rise with increasing statin dose, and side effects usually stop when the drug is discontinued.

New label warnings notwithstanding, the vast majority of people taking statins especially those who have already had a cardiovascular event—should continue to do so, while keeping an eye on blood sugar.

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