Study: High-dose Lipitor beats Zocor

High-dose statins may be risky, but the risk might be worth it, especially for Lipitor users. Or so suggests a new study, which found that high doses of statin meds may boost the risk of developing diabetes. The diabetes study found that at high doses, Pfizer's Lipitor was better than generic Zocor at preventing heart attacks, prompting researchers to advise patients to switch drugs.

First, the not-so-great news for statins. The researchers analyzed data from five different studies covering 32,752 patients treated with high and moderate doses of the cholesterol drugs. Over that time frame, high doses were associated with a 12 percent increased risk of developing diabetes. But the heart benefits outweigh the overall risks, the researchers said, suggesting that patients using high doses of statins should be screened regularly for diabetes.

Still, it's another knock against high doses of statins; just last week FDA highlighted that high doses are associated with a muscle disorder. The risk is highest among simvastatin/Zocor users, so the agency recommended that it shouldn't be used at high doses unless low doses are tolerated without any muscle problems for a full year.

But there's a hidden nugget in the new study. Among patients using high doses, Lipitor cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 22 percent, compared with a 5 percent reduction in heart risk among those who took simvastatin, the study's lead author said. "The net benefit of simvastatin is clearly very low and patients on simvastatin 80 mg should be moved to atorvastatin 80 mg instead," lead author Kausik Ray told Reuters. "I don't think we can wait for loss of (Lipitor's) patent to stop using simvastatin 80 mg."

- read the Reuters story