Statin Stalemate

Statin benefit in patients with low-risk of heart disease is questionable

(RxWiki News) A new study suggests there isn't enough evidence to recommend the widespread use of cholesterol-lowering stain drugs for patients who don't have a history of cardiovascular disease.

Although the benefits of statin drugs such as Crestor and Lipitor have been well established for patients who do have heart or cardiovascular issues, there is less evidence pointing to prevention of cardiovascular events in those without a history of cardiovascular disease. In fact, low cholesterol has been shown to contribute to increased risk of death from other causes, which could mean statins do more harm than good in people who are at low-risk for cardiovascular disease.

Researchers from the Cochrane Heart Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London looked at data from 14 trials involving 34,272 patients. Patients taking statin drugs were compared to patients who were given placebo or usual care. Statins were shown to reduce death risk (9 to 8 deaths for every 1000 people treated with the drugs) as well as non-fatal events such as heart attack, stroke and revascularization surgery.

Lead researcher Fiona Taylor said that, in spite of these findings, extrapolating these effects from studies involving people who have a history of heart disease isn't sufficient. She said the study's review underscores "important shortcomings in our knowledge about the effects of statins in (low-risk) people," adding the decision to prescribe the drugs to this population of low-risk people should not be taken lightly.

Researchers said all but one of the trials were industry-sponsored and therefore more likely to report favorable results.

Carl Heneghan from the University of Oxford said that the most effective interventions for disease prevention in adults at low risk for CVD remains unclear.

Side effects of statin drugs include muscle pain and damage, liver damage, digestive problems and rash or flushing, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Review Date: 
January 19, 2011