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Statins May Stave Off Gallstones
Date:11/10/2009

But prescribing them for protection would be questionable, expert says

TUESDAY, Nov. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Long-term use of cholesterol-lowering statins appears to reduce the incidence of gallstones and the need for surgery to prevent the excruciating pain they cause, a new study indicates.

"We're talking about people who have been taking them for about 1½ years," said Susan S. Jick, director of the Boston Collaborative Drug Surveillance Study at Boston University and a member of the team reporting the finding in the Nov. 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. "The protective effect seems to grow over time. The relative risk for them is about half the risk of someone who is not exposed to a statin."

Jick, an epidemiologist, was part of an international effort in which physicians at the University of Basel in Switzerland analyzed data collected in the United Kingdom. They studied the association between the use of statins, which are prescribed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and the incidence of gallstones.

Gallstones form in the gall bladder, which contains a fluid called bile that helps digest fats. About 80 percent of the time, gallstones consist of hardened pellets of cholesterol. They can block the ducts that carry bile from the gall bladder to the small intestine, and persistent blockage is not only painful but can cause dangerous infections. In many cases, removal of the gall bladder is necessary, through a surgical procedure called a cholecystectomy.

The study compared 27,035 people who had a cholecystectomy with 106,531 who had no history of gallstones. The numbers included 11,264 people who took statins, 2,396 of them in the cholecystectomy group.

Among those diagnosed with gallstones, the researchers found a gradual reduction in the need for surgery related to how long they had taken statins. For example, 2.6 percent of the people with f
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