The use of statins in patients without a prior history of heart attacks and strokes is of little real benefit in preventing deaths in the short term – the largest study of its type to date has found.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge and St George’s Hospital, London analysed data from 65,000 participants around the world in 11 randomized controlled trials.
The 65,000 individuals, none of whom had suffered heart attacks or strokes previously, were nonetheless those considered to be at high risk of suffering from them in later life (e.g. older individuals, those with diabetes etc.).
Contrary to previous reports based on more limited data, the researchers found that short-term use of statins for about 4-5 years had a borderline effect on preventing deaths from any cause (about seven deaths prevented for every 10,000 people treated for one year).
Cambridge University’s Dr. Sreenivasa Rao Kondapally Seshasai said: "Statins lower bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of death among those who have experienced heart attacks and strokes before.
"However, some believe that the use of statins may be harmful, with little conclusive proof on their benefits and risks to those in high-risk groups who have not had such an event before. Nevertheless, longer-term follow up of several studies does show mortality benefits in people without prior established vascular diseases.
"We believe that the present data confirm the overall safety profile of statins in healthy people and suggest that in the short-term at least the large mortality benefits of statins in established vascular disease cannot be extrapolated to primary prevention settings (i.e. to individuals who have not yet had a heart attack or stroke).
"The present findings may inform health economic considerations before extending the present guidance on primary prevention to lower risk settings."
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