Statins is a general name of a drug that lowers the production of a certain enzyme in the liver, and has the effect of reducing cholesterol. It is usually taken to aid people with cardiovascular disease. Pfizer’s version is called Lipitor. A recent study indicates that the drug can be beneficial to reduce people without heart disease (cutting the risk of having one by 20%).
Millions of over-50s could safeguard their health by taking statins, according to a study that found the drugs benefit healthy people with no heart problems.
The findings could lead to a change in policy by the NHS, which currently restricts cholesterol-lowering statins to those who either have heart disease or have at least a 20% risk of suffering a “major vascular event”, such as a non-fatal heart attack, stroke or surgery on damaged arteries, within the next decade.
But a big study of statins’ effectiveness, published in the online version of the Lancet medical journal, challenges that policy and concludes that even for people with no record of heart problems, taking statins can reduce their risk by a fifth.
The international criteria for who should receive statins should be reviewed and extended, the authors say. As many as 20 million Britons could be offered them, which would add up to £240m to the NHS’s annual drugs bill.
“If we want to prevent heart attacks and strokes that come out of the blue in people with no previous evidence of problems – and about half such events happen in the absence of any prior history of disease – then we have to identify and treat people who are currently healthy but are known to be at increased risk of developing heart disease,” said Professor Colin Baigent of Oxford University, co-author of the study.
The researchers reviewed 175,000 patients who took part in 27 previous randomised trials. They divided the participants into five groups, each with a different five-year risk of a major vascular event. They found that taking statins reduced the risk of such events by 21% for each unit reduction achieved in someone’s level of harmful low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. The benefit applied even in the patients deemed at lowest risk, they concluded.
“This benefit greatly exceeds any known hazards of statin therapy. Under present guidelines, such individuals would not typically be regarded as suitable for LDL-lowering statin therapy. The present report suggests, therefore, that these guidelines might need to be reconsidered.” they said. The research also found no evidence that that statins increased incidence of cancer or deaths from non-vascular causes.
June Davison, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, said: “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. 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.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We keep all new research under consideration. Nice [National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which assesses the cost-effectiveness of treatments] regularly reviews its published guidance in order to take account of new evidence.”
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