American researchers believe that 97% of people over the age of 66 should regularly take statins to reduce their risk of heart disease. But there is still no consensus within the medical community on the benefits of the drugs. EURACTIV France reports.
The question posed by the authors of the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), was this: should statins be used as a preventative treatment for those over 66 years old? They concluded that the systematic prescription of statins would reduce the risk of heart disease for almost everyone between 66 and 75.
Statins lower lipid levels in the blood, and are already widely used to treat patients with high cholesterol, which can lead to various forms of heart disease.
In a 2011 report, the CardioVascular Resource Group wrote that 133.3 million people suffered from excessive levels of bad cholesterol in the five largest countries of the European Union alone (Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom).
97% of 66-75 year-olds could benefit
The study advances the theory that it is a patient’s age, rather than their cholesterol level or their family’s medical history, that should determine whether or not they are prescribed the cholesterol-lowering drugs.
The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association carried out research on 6,088 patients between the ages of 66 and 90 over a period of 25 years, and concluded that 97% of people between 66 and 75 years old should take statins on a regular basis. Perhaps more surprising still is the report’s finding that 100% of men would benefit from systematically using the drugs. The authors gave no information about the effects of statins on those aged over 75.
The study also indicates that patients with high levels of bad cholesterol, and those at risk of heart attacks and strokes, should regularly take statins.
Effects of statins still not fully understood
Despite the findings of this recent report, opinion remains divided among medical professionals on the use of statins, with some calling for more widespread prescription of the drugs, and others expressing doubts over the real benefits they bring.
In 2013, the French High Authority for Health (HAS) stated that “excessive recourse to statins” as a preventative measure against heart disease, heart attacks and strokes in patients with no elevated risk factor was inappropriate. The HAS also wrote that the drugs were often not prescribed to those who needed them the most.
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Statins, they say, are undoubtedly beneficial to patients that have already suffered from heart disease or strokes, but that they should only be prescribed as a preventative where the risk is demonstrably high. According to the HAS, high-risk patients are those with several risk factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking, but not those with a family history of high cholesterol.
High cholesterol affects one in five French people. Treatment is mostly prescribed in the form of statin, molecules that reduce the movement of cholesterol in the blood. Almost 5 million French people and 8 million British people take statin.
In early 2013, a debate on statin emerged in France after Philippe Even published a report entitled The Truth about Cholesterol. In his book, Professor Even wrote that "cholesterol is not a risk, statins are useless and heart attacks only kill over the age of 75". After this, many patients stopped using statin.