Over-50s advised to take statins to prevent heart disease

Updated: Aug 29, 2012, 19:16 PM IST

London: One of the UK’s leading experts has said that statins should be given to all over-50s, regardless of their health history, because the drug can dramatically cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes in later life.

Currently statins are given only to high-risk patients, who have high cholesterol or have a risk of heart disease.

But there is ‘clear evidence’ that healthy people can also benefit based on their age alone, said Professor Sir Rory Collins while giving a keynote lecture at the European Cardiology Congress in Munich.

Professor Collins led the world’s largest study to investigate statins in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, which proved that cutting levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in the blood saved lives.

The study found that the risk of having a major vascular event such as a heart attack is cut by one-fifth for each 1.0mmol/L (millimoles per litre) fall in LDL, whether in high or low risk patients.

But, he said, current guidelines on their use - and misguided safety fears about muscle pain and memory loss - are restricting the range of people who can take them.

“At 50 you should be considering it and whether you should be taking them at an earlier age is an open question,” the Daily Mail quoted Prof Collins as saying.

“If you start treatment earlier and continue for longer the benefits will be much greater, you’re not trying to unfur the arteries, you’re preventing them from furring in the first place,” he stated.

Prof Collins said evidence from 130,000 patients taking statins in trials show they are safe.

Yet drug safety watchdogs in UK and in the US have insisted on flagging up relatively minor side effects, which are putting patients off the drugs, he said.

These include memory loss, depression, sexual difficulties and depression, while recent research suggests cataracts and diabetes may be more common in patients taking statins.

Trial data shows only one significant side effect, myopathy or muscle pain, which affects one in 10,000 patients, said Prof Collins.

He said: “We need to look properly at the safety of statins. The reality is that these drugs are remarkably safe, but the problem is that high risk patients are getting the message that these drugs have side effects.”

Research earlier this year co-ordinated by the Clinical Trial Service Unit Oxford University, where Prof Collins is co-director, reviewed findings from 27 statin trials involving 175,000 people, some of whom were at low risk of heart problems.

The drugs cut the risk of heart attacks, strokes and operations to unblock arteries by one third or more.

The benefits were gained no matter what level of cholesterol patients started out with. Healthier people who were given statins also had lower overall death rates than those who were given a placebo.

It concluded the positives greatly exceeded any side-effects from taking the drugs.