Statins and thiazides can increase blood sugar, risk of diabetes

Dr. Keith Roach

Dear Dr. Roach: My question regards the results of my fasting glucose tests for the past couple of years. I am 81 and weigh around 150 pounds. The medications I am taking concern me, with relevance to the A1C levels of my quarterly blood work. My A1C levels have mostly been near mid 5%; load was 6%. Medications relevant to this that I am suspicious of are 100-12.5 mg of losartan/hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) and 20 mg of simvastatin. I have read that these medications can have an effect of raising blood glucose. My doctor is adamant that this does not exist, but it seems to me that there is a conflict on this.

Should I perhaps ask him to change those medications because of blood sugar? I am concerned about issues with the thiazide and the statin.

— PR

Dear PR: There isn’t a conflict. You are absolutely right that both simvastatin (like all statins) and HCTZ (like all thiazides) increase blood sugar and the risk of diabetes. The risk, however, is small. For thiazides, the risk of high blood sugar seems tied to potassium levels – the lower the potassium, the higher the risk of diabetes. Interestingly, the losartan that is in combination with the HCTZ you are taking tends to raise potassium levels, so that combination may have a lower risk of worsening blood sugar levels than taking HCTZ alone. You are already taking the smallest effective dose of thiazide.

The risk of statins seems greater in higher doses and with more potent statins, like atorvastatin and rosuvastatin; however, the risk is still small. About one person in 100 treated with a high-dose intensive statin, such as 40 mg of atorvastatin for five years, would be expected to get diabetes, while a dosage of 20 mg of simvastatin would be expected to have an even lower risk.

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