Recommended NZ | Guide to Money | Gimme: Competitions - Giveaways

Statins Work, But Of Little Benefit For Low-Risk Patients

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Statins Work, But Of Little Benefit For Low-Risk Patients

Wellington, Jan 26 NZPA - New Zealanders at relatively low risk of heart disease should not be popping pills of popular cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) to keep down their risk of heart attacks, experts say.

New Zealand medical authorities have embraced statins as a cost-effective treatment: since 2002 use of the drugs has grown dramatically, with more than 1.5 million prescriptions issued last year, equivalent to more than 300,000 people taking the drug.

But a wide-ranging review of statin research has shown little evidence that people who already have a low risk of a heart attack will benefit from taking the drugs.

"The lower we go, the less the benefit, and then we get to a level where the risk of treatment might out-weigh the benefits," said National Heart Foundation medical director Norman Sharpe.

Professor Sharpe was commenting on a scientific review by the non-profit Cochrane Collaboration, which suggests the drugs have negligible benefit for patients without a history of cardiovascular disease, and that in some countries they may be over-prescribed.

"We recommend that caution should be taken in prescribing statins for primary prevention among people at low cardiovascular risk," the Cochrane review said.

Statins have well-documented benefits for patients with cardiovascular disease -- the leading cause of death in New Zealand -- but the review of 14 randomised control trials involving 34,272 patients and stretching back to the mid-1990s found that statins helped reduce death rates by only a tiny fraction for people at low risk of heart disease.

And the researchers said tiny benefit as a preventative measure might only be because some of the industry-funded studies were poorly designed.

Prof Sharpe said there was complete agreement worldwide that statins should be given routinely to people with cardiovascular disease, and there was also agreement that they should be used for prevention in patients at a high risk of the disease.

The New Zealand guideline was for both drug treatment and lifestyle advice for people with an estimated risk greater than 15 percent over five years of suffering a heart attack.

But Prof Sharpe said that many of the eligible high risk patients had not yet been identified and treated.

Though the 300,000 people now on regular statins was equivalent to the number of people expected to be in a high risk category, "however, this number will include many people at relatively low risk who may receive little benefit".

Though a man with an estimated "borderline" risk of a heart attack -- 10 percent over five years -- had a 98 percent chance year-by-year of not having an attack, his chances would only be increased to 98.7 percent if he took statins.

"Although generally very well tolerated, statins are not without side effects," said Prof Sharpe.

Risks can include liver and kidney problems, though the most common one is muscle pain, which occurs in less than 1 percent of patients.

All articles and comments on have been submitted by our community of users. Please notify us if you believe an item on this site breaches our community guidelines.