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Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 19:02 GMT
Heart drug impotence warning

Statins prevent heart attacks
Men being treated with a common heart drug could become impotent, researchers have warned.

Statins prevent heart attacks by reducing the levels of dangerous cholesterol in the bloodstream.



I think that doctors should ask more specifically whether men have problems, because men seldom volunteer information about impotence

Dr John Harvey
However, a small number of men prescribed the life-saving drug have complained that they are unable to achieve an erection.

Dr John Harvey, from the Wrexham Maelor Hospital in Wales, identified 220 men who appeared to have lost their "virility" after starting to take statins.

However, half of these recovered after changing to a different type of statin, and the British Heart Foundation says that problems with clogged arteries may extend to those supplying the penis as well as the heart.

They believe that the problem is minor, and fear that men may be putting their lives at risk if they choose not to take statins because of the impotence risk.

A spokesman said: "This review highlights a possible - albeit small - risk of lipid-lowering drugs leading to erectile dysfunction.

"It is worth remembering that erectile dysfunction could be a symptom of the disease that the statin is being used to treat as opposed to the drug itself: erectile dysfunction is sometimes present in men with coronary artery disease, diabetes or hypertension.

"Patients who take statins shouldn't worry that they will become impotent."

Cholesterol levels

Statins block the production of low density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol associated with heart disease, and help flush it out of the body.

Levels of LDL can drop by as much as 60% in patients who take statins.

Dr Harvey said: "We were a little surprised about the statins.

"We're not talking about a huge risk of impotence, but people should know that it can and does happen.

"I think that doctors should ask more specifically whether men have problems, because men seldom volunteer information about impotence."

The study results were publicised in New Scientist magazine on the same day that scientists reported research showing statins improve heart health in even more ways than first thought.

The German research, presented at the American College of Cardiology Conference, found that a statin acted on the lining of blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the heart muscles.

A heart attack happens when a clogged artery does not let enough blood through to supply oxygen to the muscles.

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