Healthy adults should take statins even if they don’t have heart problems, study says

Healthy adults should take statins even if they don’t have heart problems because the benefits are worth the mild side effects, study says

  • Researchers from the University of Oxford looked at data from 120,000 statin patients
  • They found that the reduction in heart attacks and strokes outweighed the side effects
  • 8 million Britons take statins, which lower LDL cholesterol in the blood

Healthy adults should take statins even if they don’t have heart problems because the benefits are worth the mild side effects, a large study has concluded.

Researchers from the University of Oxford looked at data from 120,000 patients to determine whether those who do not have pre-existing heart disease still benefit from statins as a preventive measure.

They concluded that while the drugs have mild side effects, such as muscle aches, these were significantly offset by a dramatic reduction in fatal heart attacks and strokes.

About eight million people in Britain take statins, which lower LDL cholesterol in the blood and are believed to prevent 80,000 heart attacks and strokes each year.

As of 2014, all people over 75, most over 60s, and many middle-aged people with conditions such as diabetes are eligible for the prescription medication.

Healthy adults should take statins, even if they don’t have heart problems, because the benefits are worth the mild side effects, a large study from the University of Oxford concluded. [stock image]

But about six million Britons who qualify for statins don’t take them because of the potential for milder effects such as muscle weakness and stiffness.

Critics also say that healthy people shouldn’t be put on them “just in case,” as this amounts to “overmedicalization.”

WHY ARE STATINS CONTROVERSIAL?

Up to six million adults in the UK are currently taking statins to lower their cholesterol levels and thereby reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

But many doctors and patients are concerned about their long-term damage, and they have been linked to diabetes, muscle pain and memory loss.

Scores are uncomfortable with what they describe as the “overmedicalization” of middle age, with statins being distributed “just in case” patients develop heart problems later in life.

Supporters, on the other hand, including the health watchdog Nice, say the pills should be prescribed more widely to prevent thousands of premature deaths.

They have been proven to help people who have had heart problems in the past.

But experts say the thresholds may be too high, meaning the benefits outweigh the side effects for many people.

Commonly reported side effects include headache, muscle aches, and nausea, and statins can also increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hepatitis, pancreatitis, and vision problems or memory loss.

While scientists agree that statins are worthwhile for people with pre-existing heart disease, there is uncertainty about whether healthy people should view them as a form of “primary prevention.”

But the new study, published in the British medical journal, concluded that statins are appropriate and beneficial for adults without heart problems.

Researchers reviewed data from 120,456 people, with an average age of 61, 40 percent of whom were women.

They found that for every 10,000 patients taking the drugs for a year, statins prevented 19 heart attacks, nine strokes and eight deaths from heart disease.

Statins have been linked to a slightly increased risk of muscle pain, liver and kidney problems, and certain conditions such as cataracts.

These risks corresponded to 15 extra cases of muscle pain, 12 extra kidney disorders and 14 extra eye disorders per 10,000 patients treated for one year.

However, the researchers concluded that taking statins was generally “beneficial.”

They said the findings “should reassure patients and physicians that the potential harm of statins is small and should not deter their use for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”

They added: ‘Side effects were mild compared to the potential benefits of statin treatment in preventing major cardiovascular events, suggesting that the benefit-to-harm balance of statins for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease may be over the is generally beneficial.’

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘This careful analysis of all available data shows that statins reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and death in people without pre-existing heart disease, and there is a low chance that they get side effects.

‘The decision to take statins to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease requires a discussion between GP and patient, and the results of this study will help inform this discussion.’

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