Statins May Lead to Diabetes in Elderly Women

Women over age 75 taking statins had a 33% increased risk of developing diabetes.

Statins are a commonly prescribed medication used to lower cholesterol in patients with high levels of LDL cholesterol, and have been shown to reduce cardiovascular events and mortality. A new study suggests that older women taking the drugs may be putting themselves at a higher risk of developing diabetes.

The study authors discovered that women over age 75 were 33% more likely to develop diabetes if they were taking statins, compared with counterparts who were not taking the drug, according to a study published by Drugs and Aging.

“We found that almost 50% of women in their late seventies and eighties in the study took statins, and 5% were diagnosed with new-onset diabetes,” researcher Mark Jones, PhD.

Although statins are highly prescribed among elderly individuals to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, relatively few studies have examined how they affect older women. The investigators reported that a large portion of the research includes men aged between 40 and 70.

Included in the study were 8372 women who took part in the Women’s Health Australia study. All participants were free of diabetes at baseline. Over 10 years of follow up, the authors found that 49% of patients filled a prescription for statins, and 5% initiated diabetes treatment, according to the study.

The authors found a link between statin use and new-onset diabetes. This risk was also observed to increase to more than 50% when statin doses increased, which can be significant because patients typically require dose increases as they age.

“What’s most concerning was that we found a ‘dose effect’ where the risk of diabetes increased as the dosage of statins increased,” Dr Jones said. “Over the 10 years of the study most of the women progressed to higher doses of statins.”

These findings suggest that older women with high cholesterol should not be exposed to high doses of statins. However, high doses of statins can be medically necessary.

The authors said that elderly women taking high doses should be monitored for increases in blood glucose levels to ensure that newly-onset diabetes can be detected and treated early.

General practitioners (GPs) may choose to discontinue statin treatment for elderly female patients who develop diabetes due to exacerbation of the condition, according to the study. GPs should evaluate the risks and benefits of statin treatment in this patient population prior to prescribing.

“GPs and their elderly female patients should be aware of the risks,” Dr Jones concluded. “Those elderly women taking statins should be carefully and regularly monitored for increased blood glucose to ensure early detection and management of diabetes.”