Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Statins and the risk of diabetes

Image: Thinkstock

Q. I've heard that taking statins can raise your risk of diabetes. Is this really true?

A. While it's true that some research has shown a link between statin use and a higher risk of diabetes, that observation doesn't necessarily prove a cause-and-effect relationship. However, in a small number of people, statins may raise blood sugar levels—potentially enough to trigger a new diagnosis of diabetes. The risk appears to be greater with higher-potency statins, such as atorvastatin (Lipitor) and simvastatin (Zocor), according to some research.

On the other hand, doctors prescribe statins to people with diabetes to reduce the risk of heart
disease associated with the condition. Overall, the cardiac benefit appears to outweigh any potential slight added risk of diabetes. For example, in a study in The American Journal of Cardiology of 9,000 people at risk for diabetes, 29% of people taking statins ended up with diabetes, compared with 24% of those who didn't take statins. However, the statin users had 30% fewer cardiovascular problems. Statins may simply unmask diabetes in people already at high risk for the problem. But the FDA suggests that health care providers consider testing blood sugar levels in people who start taking statins. 

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »