Originally created 09/01/01

Doctors reassure on drugs



Hearing about the withdrawal of a cholesterol-lowering drug similar to the one she was on did cause Rosalyn Anderson some concern.

But then she reflected on the years she feels those drugs have given her and decided to put her trust in the medicine and her cardiologist, Paul E. Cundey III.

"Of course, I took notice," said Mrs. Anderson, 67. "I just didn't get as anxious as other people who haven't been on them as long."

Unfortunately, Augusta physicians fear many patients won't be as rational as Mrs. Anderson and will drop their medication or switch to a less-effective or unproven supplement. The benefits of taking statins far outweigh the risk of a rare side effect, and safe alternatives to the drug removed are widely available, physicians said.

The Bayer Pharmaceutical Division announced recently it was voluntarily recalling Baycol, a lipid-lowering drug, after it was linked to 31 deaths from a rare complication. Called rhabdomyolysis, it occurs when the muscle cells are broken down and the detritus enters the bloodstream, causing muscle pain and tenderness, dark urine, vomiting, and sometimes death, said Dr. Cundey of Cardiovascular Associates of Augusta.

But the small number of those cases pales in comparison with the millions of patients who take statins to keep their cholesterol under control, Dr. Cundey said. Patients put themselves in more danger by dropping their statins than by staying on them, Dr. Cundey said.

"They are more likely to have another heart attack than have rhabdomyolysis," Dr. Cundey said.

If patients have unusual muscles soreness, they should contact their physicians and not stop taking the drugs on their own, Dr. Cundey said.

Paul Fischer at the Center for Primary Care said he and his staff have received hundreds of worried calls from patients who saw the news about Baycol and, even though they are taking a different drug, are worried about staying on it. He reassured them the bigger danger is not taking it and letting their cholesterol build back up.

"I tell them this class of drugs has saved many, many lives," Dr. Fischer said.

That's something Mrs. Anderson can attest to.

"I would never come off my drugs," Mrs. Anderson said. "They're trying hard to keep me alive."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.