Healthy adults should take statins even if they don’t have heart problems as the benefits are worth the mild side effects, study says
- Oxford University researchers looked at data from 120,000 statins patients
- They found the reductions in heart attacks and strokes outweighed side effects
- 8million Brits take statins, which lower levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood
Healthy adults should take statins even if they don’t have heart problems as the benefits are worth the mild side effects, a major study has concluded.
Researchers at Oxford University looked at data from 120,000 patients to establish if those who do not have existing heart disease still benefit from statins as a preventative measure.
They concluded that although the drugs do have mild side effects such as muscle pain, these were significantly outweighed by a dramatic reduction in deadly heart attacks and strokes.
Around eight million people in Britain take statins, which lower levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood and are thought to prevent 80,000 heart attacks and strokes every year.
Since 2014 all over-75s, most over-60s and many in middle age with conditions such as diabetes have been eligible for the prescription medication.
Healthy adults should take statins even if they don’t have heart problems as the benefits are worth the mild side effects, a major study by Oxford University has concluded [stock image]
But around six million Britons who are eligible for statins do not take them because of the potential for milder effects such as muscle weakness and stiffness.
Critics also say healthy people should not be put on them ‘just in case’ as this amounts to ‘over-medicalisation’.
WHY ARE STATINS CONTROVERSIAL?
Up to six million adults in Britain currently take statins to lower their cholesterol levels and thereby reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
But many doctors and patients are worried about their long-term harms and they have been linked to diabetes, muscular pain and memory loss.
Scores are uneasy with what they describe as the ‘overmedicalisation’ of the middle-aged, which sees statins doled out ‘just in case’ patients have heart problems in later life.
Supporters on the other hand, including the health watchdog Nice, say the pills should be prescribed more widely to prevent thousands of early deaths.
They are proven to help people who have suffered heart problems in the past.
But experts say the thresholds may be too high, meaning benefits are outweighed by side effects for many people.
Commonly reported side effects include headache, muscle pain and nausea, and statins can also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hepatitis, pancreatitis and vision problems or memory loss.
While scientists agree statins are worth it for people with existing heart disease, there is uncertainty over whether healthy people should take them as a form ‘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, of whom 40 per cent were women.
They found that for every 10,000 patients who spent a year taking the drugs, statins prevented 19 heart attacks, nine strokes, and eight deaths from heart disease.
Statins were associated with a slightly increased risk of muscle pain, liver and kidney problems, and certain conditions such as cataracts.
These risks equated to 15 more instances of muscle pain, 12 more kidney events, and 14 more eye conditions per 10,000 patients treated for a year.
However the researchers concluded that overall taking statins was ‘favourable’.
They said the findings ‘should reassure patients and doctors that the potential harms of statins are small and should not deter their use for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.’
They added: ‘Adverse effects were mild compared with the potential benefits of treatment with statins in preventing major cardiovascular events, suggesting that the benefit-to-harm balance of statins for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease is generally favourable.’
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at 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 likelihood that they will experience side effects.
‘The decision to take statins to reduce the risk of heart and circulatory disease requires a conversation between GP and patient, and the results of this study will help to inform this discussion.’