Statin Therapy and Thyroid Eye Disease

Last updated: July 2022

If you are living with thyroid eye disease (TED), your treatment options have been limited until recently. With new treatments available, some people with TED have found relief in their symptoms and can better manage daily life with TED.1

While new treatment is great, prevention of TED remains a mystery. Decreasing certain risk factors and making lifestyle changes might help, but there is no treatment to prevent TED.1

However, promising research shows that a type of drug class known as statins might help prevent some people from getting thyroid eye disease. People with a condition known as Graves’ disease often get TED, though both conditions are not causative of the other.2

Knowing about these drugs and recent study findings can help you make informed treatment decisions for Graves' disease and TED.

What is Graves’ disease?

Like TED, Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease. Graves’ disease, which affects about 1 in 200 people in the United States, causes an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).3,4

In Graves’ disease, the body makes an antibody that is not normal. This antibody, called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI), tricks the body into thinking it needs more thyroid hormone. As a result, the body makes too much thyroid hormone, increasing metabolism and causing hyperthyroidism.3,4

Because TSI is harmful, it targets and attacks healthy cells and proteins in the thyroid. Doctors think the proteins around the eye are similar to those in the thyroid. This explains why TSI also attacks the tissues around the eye. Symptoms of TED result from the inflammation and damage of eye tissue, muscles, and fat.1

Does Graves’ disease cause thyroid eye disease?

Up to half of those with Graves’ disease develop TED. Despite this, neither condition causes the other.5

What are statins?

Statins are cholesterol-lowering drugs. However, these drugs are prescribed for more than high cholesterol.6

Research has shown that statins can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke in some people. Statins can aid in preventing blood clots and stabilizing plaque build-up on blood vessel walls.6

Research findings: Graves’ and statins

Doctors think that statins might help treat or prevent some inflammation caused by various diseases. Because of this, research has shown that statins might help treat or prevent some eye problems.2,6

According to a 2015 study, statins lowered the risk of getting TED by 40 percent in those with Graves’ disease. Another 2018 study showed that people who took statins had fewer TED surgeries than those not taking statins.2

These research findings are promising but not conclusive. The reason why some people with Graves’ disease develop TED and others do not is still a mystery.2

What does this mean for you?

Like all medicine, statins have possible side effects. The most common side effects include:7

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Muscle and joint pain

More rare side effects of statins include:7

  • Memory problems
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Muscle cell damage
  • Liver damage

These are not all the possible side effects of statins. Talk to your doctor about what to expect when taking statins. You should call your doctor if you have any changes that concern you when taking statins.7

Statin therapy is not an option for everyone. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of this therapy. If you have Graves’ disease with or without TED, you might want to talk to your doctor about statins. Research findings have been promising but not widely accepted by all doctors who treat TED and thyroid disorders.2

Treatment for diseases such as Graves’ disease and TED is influenced by new research and studies. There is still a lot of research to be done to confirm the benefits of statins for Graves’ disease. If you are interested in finding a clinical study, you can search online or ask your doctor or TED specialist for more information.

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