Smokers Who Use Statins Watch Out

Statin use increased the possible risk of interstitial lung disease in smokers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Cholesterol-reducing drugs have been shown to be quite effective in helping treat other disorders. Unfortunately, it may increase the risk of developing interstitial lung disease (ILD).

A new study showed that cholesterol-reducing drugs would increase the risk of interstitial lung abnormalities (ILA) which are an underlying cause of ILD in smokers.

The use of cholesterol-reducing drugs was also shown to increase the risk of lung injury and fibrotic lung disease in mice.

"Talk to your doctor about ILD risk if you smoke."

ILD is a group of lung diseases that affect the tissue between the air sacs in the lungs and leads to scarring. This leads to reduced lung function and the scarring cannot be reversed.

The study was conducted by George R. Washko M.D., M.M.sC., and Gary M. Hunninghake M.D., M.P.H., from the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The study involved 1,184 current and former smokers who had no trace of ILA and 172 current and former smokers who had ILA who had participated in the COPDGene study.

Of the 1,184 individuals with no ILA, 315 used cholesterol-reducing drugs. Out of the 172 ILA individuals, 66 used cholesterol-reducing drugs. Adjusting for different variables, it was determined that cholesterol-reducing drug usage increased the risk of developing ILA by 60 percent. 

The ILA risk associated with cholesterol-reducing drugs was found to be greatest in water-soluble treatments such as Pravachol (pravastatin). Older individuals were also more susceptible to the ILA risk.

The study also found that cholesterol-reducing drugs also increased the risk of lung injury and fribrotic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, in mice.

The mice were already treated with the cancer drug Blenoxane (bleomycin), which has been shown to cause lung injury and cystic fribrosis. Cholesterol-reducing drugs sped up the process in which the mice develop lung injury and cystic fibrosis.

There are some factors to consider about the results. Smoking may have caused the lung inflammation and ILA while the usage of cholesterol-reducing drugs was not uniform for all the participants. In regards to the results from mice, those tests were not replicated in human cells or models.

Cholesterol-reducing drugs had previously been found to possibly reduce influenza deaths.

More studies are needed, such as including non-smokers and trying to replicate the mice results in human cells.

For now, Dr. Hunninghake concludes that the benefit of cholesterol-reducing drugs is too great to warrant not using the drugs and that it can aid some with some respiratory diseases. Dr. Hunninghake recommends that doctors be aware of this possible risk. 

This study was published in the January edition of American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 11, 2012
Last Updated:
January 14, 2012