TODAY   |  March 02, 2012

Are statins safe medicine?

NBC chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Sndyerman talks about the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, and their slight risks: memory loss, elevated blood sugar, and Type 2 diabetes.

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>>> this morning on today's health a warning for americans who take statin drugs. the fda has issued new guidelines based on research which suggests there is a slight increased risk of memory loss and other medical problems associated with the drugs. nbc's chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman is here with us.

>> hey, matt.

>> good morning. people have been talking about side effects with statins for a long time.

>> right.

>> it's the first time the fda has taken the step to link statins --

>> it's all about transparency.

>> how severe are the problems we are talking about?

>> it depends if you get them. it's more common in women. i get those and the fda changed the label this is week to look at three things. memory loss which can be fuzziness, not being able to do problems, remember where your keys are. changes in blood sugar and for some people, aches and pains in the muscles. doctors say don't necessarily get off the medicine if you have them. but be aware of the fact that if you do experience them, at least let your doctor know. these are real.

>> let me get to things i need to say.

>> sure.

>> the research and manufacturers of america issued a statement that reads in part statins have impacted the health of millions of americans. the cdc has tributed the declines in cardiovascular death rates in part to better treatments.

>> absolutely right. these are proven medications that have reduced the risk of stroke and heart disease , may have cancer prevention effects. maybe more in men than in women. i think the jury is still out. but women may have slightly increased risk. we have talked about taking the medications. a lot of doctors take statins and a baby aspirin and believe, laughingly, it should be in the water for everyone.

>> i have had doctors say they should put statins in the water. there is no down side. clearly there is.

>> i'm a classic person for whom there is a down side. on a small dose of lipitor i get nightmares, foggy memory and muscle aches . i have had to figure out the cost benefit ratio for me. for people with cholesterol between 200 and 240. that's where doctors will say, yes or no.

>> right.

>> if i sit there and say, i'm having certain memory issues, they are not debilitating. i'm having fuzziness but my cholesterol has been reduced significantly which is going to reduce my chance of a heart attack .

>> right.

>> i'm going to say, you know, that's going to save my life and memory problems won't threaten my life.

>> you're the kind of person for whom a doctor will say, stay on it, matt. we know it will lower your bad cholesterol , the risk of heart disease and stroke. if you can live with fuzzy memory which is probably not a longstanding event then live wit.

>> all right.

>> it comes down to the cost benefit of every individual patient. sometimes if you have problems with one drug you can try --

>> i was going to ask. these drugs aren't all created equal.

>> they are cousins. they're related. the compounds are different. if you have a b proon one, try another.

>> do you tend to develop these problems with side effects early on in taking this or might you develop these years after you start taking them?

>> there is a group of people who have complications more than others, side effects . people over 65. women. people who take multiple medications. even something as simple as antibiotic or anti-viral. if you have liver problems or type 2 diabetes you may see a change in liver enzymes or blood sugar . maybe not enough to get off the medication. if you are on the list you might see yourself having more medications. and normally we monitor liver enzymes all the way through. now they are saying get them checked before you start.

>> consult with your physician before you do anything.

>> these medications are staying.

>> thank you.

>> you bet.

>> just ahead, the top websites to rent a place to stay for your summer vacation.