Study Recommends More People Be Given Statins
May 18, 2012

Study Recommends More People Be Given Statins

Connie K. Ho for

A new report published in The Lancet states that more people should be given cholesterol-lowering drugs and statins to help decrease the number of strokes and heart attacks.

Statins have been known to help people who have a high risk of having a heart attack and a stroke. However, medical professionals have debated medicating healthy people, whether it works and if it´s socially acceptable. Statins are thought to be connected to liver problems, kidney failure, muscle weakness, and a higher risk of diabetes. 175,000 patients participated in the study.

"This research provides further evidence that statins are an effective and safe way of reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes even among people at quite low risk of these conditions,” stated Professor Shah Ebrahim, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in a BBC article. Ebrahim conducted a review of the data this past year and recommended that doctors not prescribe statins to healthy people. "The benefits of giving statins to everyone over the age of 50 would probably save the NHS money in the long run, owing to the savings in health care costs from the heart attacks and strokes prevented."

According to the BBC, researchers at Oxford University have studied the issue in detail and their analysis of 27 trials helped them conclude that statins could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke for everyone. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the United Kingdom currently has mandates in place that recommend statins for people who have a 20 percent greater chance of developing cardiovascular diseases within 10 years.

Doctors took into consideration the patients´ age, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and lifestyle in determining the risk in the study.

"We've been taught over the years that high cholesterol is the thing that matters; you mustn't have high cholesterol,” researcher Professor Colin Baigent told the BBC. “But what we've actually learned is that, whatever your level of cholesterol, reducing it further is beneficial. Whatever your level of risk, the benefits greatly exceed any known hazard."

Baigent believes that lowering the threshold from 20 percent to 10 percent risk of cardiovascular diseases would increase the number of people taking statins to five billion within 10 years. In his perspective, this could possibly save 2,000 lives and prevent 10,000 heart attacks or strokes annually. He and other researchers are calling on NICE to look over the evidence allowing statins to people.

"Half of [these] deaths come out of the blue in people who were previously healthy,” said Baigent in the BBC article. "If we are going to prevent that half of cardiac or stroke deaths, then we've got to consider treating healthy people. It can't be done any other way."

Under these new conditions of qualifying for statins, there would be a blanket policy in the United Kingdom that would save money on screening tests. According to the Telegraph, the cost of the statin would also be offset by savings it would bring to the NHS. It would prevent costly operations, give way to rehabilitation, and increase the amount of space for in care homes.

"Those who already have heart disease, or are at high risk, are offered statins because it's well established they help to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease,” said June Davison, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, in an interview with the Guardian. The British Heart Foundation was one of the organizations that helped fund the study. “This large-scale research found that even people at low risk of heart disease could benefit from statin therapy. The findings will help to inform policy and treatment guidelines in the future."

NICE has stated that it will update its guidelines and this new information will be published at the end of 2013.

"New evidence on statin treatment thresholds that has become available since publication of the original NICE guideline, including the study reported in the Lancet, will be considered as part of our review,” commented the organization in the BBC article.