Statins are one of the most commonly prescribed medications used by primary care physicians and cardiologists to treat high cholesterol. Not only are they good for lowering cholesterol, but they also fight inflammation in the arteries. This is good because inflammation in the arteries can lead to plaque buildup and heart attacks. However, there have been concerns over their side effects. Some statin users have reported that they experienced memory loss while taking the medication. Is this true?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its safety information for statins to include memory loss, forgetfulness, and confusion as possible risks. But is there really a link between taking statins and memory loss?
Statins are a medication that blocks the substance in your liver that the body uses to make low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often called “bad cholesterol.” Your body needs some cholesterol, but having high levels of LDL cholesterol puts your health at risk. It is this cholesterol that can cause the blockages in your blood vessels and lead to a heart attack or stroke. Some types of statins even help your body reduce the amount of bad cholesterol that has already built up in your artery walls.
If your LDL cholesterol levels are above 100 mg/dL, and you aren’t able to lower those levels with lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe a statin. Keep in mind, different types of statins vary in their potency. Your doctor is most likely to prescribe statins if you:
have a history of heart attack, stroke, or heart disease
have a high risk of having a heart attack or stroke within 10 years
are 21 or over with an LDL cholesterol level of 190 mg/dL or higher
are age 40 to 75 and have diabetes
While statin users have reported memory loss to the FDA, studies haven’t found evidence to support these claims. Just because someone happened to be taking a certain medicine when they developed memory loss does not prove that the medication caused the effect. Research has actually suggested that statins may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. This is possibly because the most common cause of dementia is vascular dementia, which is dementia caused by strokes and “mini-stokes” due to small blockages in the arteries that carry blood to the brain. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for strokes so by cutting down the number of strokes, statin medications may actually reduce the frequency of vascular dementia.
Always talk with your doctor if you are taking statins and experiencing unpleasant side effects no matter what they are. All medications have a few side effects, but they should not be interfering with your daily life. You should not stop taking the medication on your own. There are other medications that may cause memory loss or a combination of medications that could be having that affect. Never diagnose yourself. Always talk with your doctor about any and all concerns. We are not here to diagnose, only to educate.