Common cholesterol-lowering drugs may harm kidney health, study finds

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A recent study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University has brought to light concerning findings about rosuvastatin, a widely used cholesterol-lowering medication.

Part of the statin family, rosuvastatin is commonly prescribed to manage high cholesterol levels, a key factor in preventing heart disease. However, this new research indicates that higher doses of rosuvastatin may pose significant risks to kidney health.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved rosuvastatin with prior indications of potential kidney-related side effects, such as blood in the urine (hematuria) and protein in the urine (proteinuria).

Despite these initial concerns, comprehensive studies evaluating these risks in practical, everyday healthcare settings were lacking until now.

The study team analyzed electronic health records spanning from 2011 to 2019. They compared the health outcomes of patients taking rosuvastatin with those taking atorvastatin, another popular statin.

The data included over 150,000 new rosuvastatin users and nearly 800,000 new users of atorvastatin.

Their findings over a three-year period showed that 2.9% of the patients developed hematuria and 1.0% developed proteinuria.

More alarmingly, the study revealed that rosuvastatin increased the risk of hematuria by 8%, proteinuria by 17%, and severe kidney failure—requiring intensive treatments like dialysis or a kidney transplant—by 15% compared to atorvastatin.

The study also highlighted a particularly troubling issue with dosage. Patients with advanced kidney disease were often prescribed higher doses of rosuvastatin than what the FDA recommends for such cases.

About 44% of these patients received doses exceeding recommended levels, intensifying concerns about the drug’s safety for this vulnerable group.

Despite these risks, both rosuvastatin and atorvastatin showed similar effectiveness in reducing heart-related complications, prompting critical questions about the trade-offs involved in using higher doses of rosuvastatin, especially among patients with pre-existing kidney conditions.

Published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, the findings from this study, led by Jung-im Shin and her team, call for a reevaluation of how rosuvastatin is prescribed, particularly concerning its dosage.

The research suggests that both doctors and patients need to carefully weigh the benefits against the risks, taking into account the potential for serious kidney damage.

This study serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of continuous monitoring and evaluation of medications after they are brought to market.

As more is learned about the effects of these drugs in real-world conditions, medical guidelines and prescription practices can be adapted to better safeguard patient health and safety.

This ongoing vigilance helps ensure that the benefits of medications truly outweigh their risks, particularly for those with additional health vulnerabilities.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about how drinking milk affects risks of heart disease, and herbal supplements could harm your heart rhythm.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about how espresso coffee affects your cholesterol level, and results showing Vitamin K2 could help reduce heart disease risk.

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