The science on statins and sexual function is inconclusive, but it does appear that taking a statin may sometimes affect a person’s sex life.
On the plus side, some men report improved erections when their High cholesterol was treated with statins, said Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of the department of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. It is plausible that lowering cholesterol improves the function of the cells that line blood vessels, which could help erectile function, he said.
But a 2008 report from the University of California, San Diego, tells a different story. Researchers looked at statin use and sexual function in 1,000 men and women, half of whom were given a statin and half of whom took a placebo. Over all, men on statins were about twice as likely as those taking placebos to report that their ability to achieve orgasm had become “somewhat worse” or “much worse.”
Dr. Beatrice Golomb, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, medical school, who helped conduct that study, says doctors don’t always take patients seriously when they talk about side effects, sexual or otherwise. In other research, Dr. Golomb found that when patients complained about the most commonly recognized side effects of statins, their doctors denied the possibility of a connection more than half the time.
Medical problems that lead to a statin prescription might also be to blame for changes in sexual function, said Dr. Natan Bar-Chama, director of male reproductive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Statins are commonly prescribed for people with ailments such as diabetes or heart disease, which can cause erectile dysfunction. If the underlying disease improves when someone takes statins, then erectile function is likely to improve as well, he said.
On the flip side, statins can cause side effects such as fatigue and muscle weakness. Anyone with those conditions would be more likely to suffer sexual problems, he said.
Because the science on statins and sexual function is so inconclusive, Dr. Golomb said, patients who do notice sexual problems should talk to their doctors about whether the likely benefits of statins are worth the trade-off. Research has clearly shown that men under 70 with pre-existing heart disease live longer if they take statins, but the advantages are less clear for women, those without disease and those over 70, she said.
“Doctors need to be informed about and responsive to patient concerns,” Dr. Golomb said. “Make sure you have a doctor who listens to you.”