Statins and Memory Loss? Forget About It

Statins did not appear to cause memory loss

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) One lifesaving drug may have even fewer side effects than previously thought.

A new study found that, contrary to previous reports, statins were not likely a cause of memory loss. 

“People who have high cholesterol should be on statins,” said lead study author Brian L. Strom, MD, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, in a press release. “People shouldn't steer away from the drug because of false fear of memory problems."

About 1 in 4 deaths in the US are caused by heart disease, according to Dr. Strom and team. Statins, such as atorvastatin (brand name Lipitor) or rosuvastatin (Crestor), are commonly prescribed to reduce this risk. Statins are a class of drugs that lower cholesterol.

Dr. Strom and team looked at the link between statins and memory loss.

These researchers compared 482,542 patients taking statins to 482,543 patients who weren’t on statins. About 5 percent of the second group were taking nonstatin cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as cholestyramine (brand name Prevalite).

Dr. Strom and team found that most of the patients in the first group reported some memory loss during the first 30 days of taking statins. However, most of the patients taking nonstatins also reported memory loss.

These findings suggest that these drugs may not actually cause memory loss — but rather may lead to a “detection bias." In other words, patients may be more likely to notice existing memory issues when they start taking a new drug — because they are more focused on their health, Dr. Strom and team said.

“When patients are put on statins or any new drug, they’re seen more often by their doctor, or they themselves are paying attention to whether anything is wrong,” Dr. Strom said. “So if they have a memory problem, they’re going to notice it. Even if it has nothing to do with the drug, they’re going to blame it on the drug."

Dr. Strom and team concluded that statins are generally a safe way to lower cholesterol.

This study was published June 8 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The National Institutes of Health funded this research. Dr. Strom disclosed financial ties to multiple pharmaceutical companies, such as AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Review Date: 
June 8, 2015
Last Updated:
June 12, 2015