Fear of statin side effects causing thousands of needless deaths
Thousands of people are dying from heart attacks and strokes due to fears over non-existent side effects of statins, researchers warn.
A major new study into the side effects of the cholesterol-lowering medicine suggests common symptoms such as muscle pain and weakness are not caused by the drugs themselves.
The study, which involved around 10,000 patients at risk of heart and artery disease, highlighted a psychosomatic response where the expectation of a bad outcome led to reports of physical symptoms.
In the case where they did not know which drugs they were given, patients taking sugar pills were no more likely than those taking statins to report negative side-effects - but when the patients given statins were told what they were taking, reports of muscle pain rose by 41pc.
Lead author Peter Sever said this was an example of the so-called "nocebo" effect, the opposite of the well-known placebo effect.
"This is not a case of people making up symptoms, or that the symptoms are 'all in their heads'. Patients can experience very real pain as a result of the nocebo effect," he said.
"What our study shows is that it's precisely the expectation of harm that is likely causing the increase in muscle pain and weakness, rather than the drugs."
Professor Sever, from Imperial College London, said "tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands" of people are dying because they are choosing not to take statins for fear of side-effects that do not exist.
Statins, prescribed to help reduce the risk of potentially deadly cardiovascular disease, are the most-prescribed drug in the UK and Ireland.
Up to a fifth of patients taking the medicine report symptoms including muscle pain, poor sleep, memory loss and erectile dysfunction.
Meanwhile, consumers are being warned about the accuracy of heart rate apps after a study found huge variability between commercially available apps, even those using the same technology.
The research published in the 'European Journal of Preventive Cardiology' found that there is no law requiring validation of these apps and "therefore no way for consumers to know if the results are accurate".
"Heart rate apps come installed on many smartphones and once people see them it is human nature to use them and compare their results with others," said last author Dr Christophe Wyss, a cardiologist at Heart Clinic Zurich, Switzerland.
The study included 108 patients who had their heart rate measured by ECG, pulse oximetry, and each app using each phone.
The researchers found substantial differences in accuracy between the four apps. In some apps there were differences of more than 20 beats per minute compared to ECG in over 20pc of the measurements.
The non-contact apps performed less well than the contact apps.