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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Statens May Increase Risk of Nerve Damage

Aired August 20, 2002 - 08:53   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to get some medical news this morning. The most prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs in the world may have a hidden danger. A new study says that statens, which you may know as lipitor pravachol among others, may increase your risk of nerve damage. What does that mean for the 16 million Americans taking the drugs?
Dr. Sanjay Gupta live this morning live in our "House Call" at the CNN Center.

Sounds significant. How much, doctor?

Good morning.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Bill.

It is significant, no question. It is because in large part, it is such a popular drug, such a popular class of drugs. Bill, you mentioned 16 million people currently take these medications. According to federal guidelines, 36 million people may be taking these medications within the next few years. One drug company, Pfizer, $7 billion alone on this one medication.

What we're hearing there are five specific medications within this class. There used to be a sixth medication as well. You can read the name there. There was another medications as well, Bill, called Baycol, and that medication was actually taken off the market a few years ago because of problems with actually muscle pains and possibly deaths as well.

There was also anecdotal reports that these medications may be causing nerve damage. And patients were actually getting pain, tingling, things like that. And now a study out of Denmark gas actually looked at that issue. They have actually surveyed about half a million people, and found that, in fact, there was some link between statens and nerve damage, specifically about a 15 percent increased risk -- increase in risk of nerve damage if you're taking statens as compared to the general population.

That only translates to about one in 2,200 people who are taking statens that actually have this problem, but if you take the medication longer, which most people do. A lot of people take it for several years, if you take it two years or longer, you're risks increases 26 fold. So that was pretty significant as well, Bill. That is what we're hearing. There are side effects we hear about all the time in medications, especially as they become more popular. This is one that has some attention right now.

HEMMER: You know, Sanjay, I think the 16 million Americans, some of whom are watching this program right now, after asking themselves the question, should they continue taking their drugs, what do you tell them?

GUPTA: Well, I think that every researcher that has commented on this, everyone involved with this, says absolutely, there is no question that taking the medications is so much more important than the risks of neuropathy. First of all, the risks are still relatively small. A big problem if you have them, but let's just look at some of the symptoms of Neuropathy compared to the prevention of heart disease: pain, tingling, loss of feeling, possible weakness. Those are all concerns, no question, with neuropathy, but these are far outweighed by the decreased risk of heart disease, decreasing by 25 to 30 percent if you stay on these statens. These medications are really very popular, and for a good reason; they're really lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke.

HEMMER: Good stuff to know. Thank you, Sanjay. Dr. Sanjay Gupta in our "House Call" this morning.

Good to see you again, pal.

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