International research shows a commonly used cholesterol-lowering drug can cause the risk of serious muscle damage, but University of Otago researchers say the risk is minimal.

A new study published in the International Journal of Cardiology found people taking a daily dose of 40mg of simvastatin - one of the statin drugs used to prevent heart attacks and strokes - were about five times as likely to develop rhabdomyolysis when compared with people taking 20mg daily.

Rhabdomyolysis is a condition in which the breakdown of muscle tissue can lead to acute kidney failure.

Despite the research, University of Otago researchers said the condition was still very rare in people taking the drug.

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Study lead investigator Dr Lianne Parkin said the risks affected about 11 in every 100,000 for those taking the 40mg dose of the drug and two in every 100,000 for those taking the 20mg dose for a one-year course. Meta-analyses showed the benefits of statins outweighed any serious adverse effects, she said.