Doctors may prescribe statins to manage cholesterol levels for some people with kidney failure. However, the risks of this medication include further kidney damage, rhabdomyolysis, and liver inflammation.

When creating a treatment plan for someone with kidney failure, doctors will also look to address and treat any complications or additional conditions.

Kidney failure can increase a person’s risk of heart failure. Statins are a type of medication that can help manage cholesterol levels and treat heart disease.

However, before prescribing statins, doctors will assess the risks and benefits of this medication for the individual, as statins can lead to further kidney damage.

This article explains what statins are, whether they can improve kidney function, the potential risks and side effects of the medication, and other treatment options for people with kidney failure.

A black blister pack of statins for someone with kidney failure.-1Share on Pinterest

Statins are a group of medications that reduce a person’s level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, sometimes known as “bad” cholesterol, and increase a person’s level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as “good” cholesterol.

Statins disrupt the production of cholesterol in the liver and help the liver remove cholesterol already present in the blood. Examples of statins include:

A doctor may prescribe statins to people with high cholesterol, because excess cholesterol in the blood can lead to the formation of plaque.

When plaque builds up inside the arteries, it can cause them to narrow and become inflexible. If a blood clot forms and blocks a narrow artery, it may cause a stroke or heart attack.

The American Heart Association lists statins as the most effective cholesterol-lowering medication.

Statins may help protect the kidneys in certain circumstances, although experts need to conduct more research to confirm this.

A 2018 review highlights some observational studies that suggest statins may help to protect the kidneys following major noncardiac surgery. However, randomized control trial studies did not further confirm this effect.

Researchers in the review highlighted that statins may have a protective effect on the kidneys in people with chronic kidney disease who do not require dialysis.

However, the review concludes that there is insufficient evidence to recommend the routine use of statins for kidney protection.

Statins can cause adverse effects and increase the risk of other health conditions, including the following:

  • Rhabdomyolysis: This is a rare condition that breaks down damaged muscles, releasing muscle cells into the blood. It can lead to additional complications, including kidney damage or failure, permanent disability, and death.
  • Myopathy: Myopathies are conditions that can cause muscle weakness. Complications of myopathies include heart and kidney failure and irreversible muscle damage. In some cases, they can lead to death.
  • Hepatotoxicity: This term refers to liver toxicity, in which the liver becomes inflamed due to medication.
  • Diabetes: Statins may increase the risk of diabetes, which affects the body’s ability to process blood sugar.

Statins may also cause hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).

Side effects

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), statins may cause the following side effects:

Doctors may prescribe statins to manage cholesterol levels if someone with kidney failure also has heart disease.

Treatment for kidney failure may also include the following options:

  • Hemodialysis: This treatment uses a machine to filter waste from a person’s blood.
  • Kidney transplant: In a kidney transplant, surgeons will remove a person’s kidney and replace it with a healthy kidney from a donor.
  • Peritoneal dialysis: This type of dialysis uses the natural filtering ability of a person’s abdominal lining to filter waste from the blood.

People can speak with their doctor about the treatment options available to them to decide on the best course.

People with kidney failure who are taking statins should receive regular follow-ups from their doctor to monitor their kidney health.

They should also speak with their doctor if they experience side effects due to statins that affect their daily life. A doctor may be able to adjust the person’s treatment plan and find alternative ways to manage their cholesterol.

An individual should contact a doctor as a matter of urgency if they have symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, such as:

If a person with kidney failure also experiences heart disease, doctors may prescribe statins to manage cholesterol levels and treat the heart condition.

However, statins have risks and side effects that doctors will consider before prescribing them. Statin use increases the risk of damage to the kidneys, which could worsen the health of someone with kidney failure.

This medication can also increase the risk of conditions such as rhabdomyolysis, which can cause kidney damage, disability, and death. A person should speak with their doctor to find the best treatment options if they are experiencing kidney failure.