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Should all over-50s take anti-cholesterol drug?
Statins cut the risk of heart attacks by 30 per cent even in healthy people, researchers say.
The cholesterol-busting drugs also reduce the chances of death from all causes by 12 per cent.
The findings, from a review of studies involving people without heart disease, will renew the heated debate over whether everyone over the age of 50 should be prescribed the powerful drugs.
At present they are given only to those at significant risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Many experts say wider access to the cheap drug could save hundreds of thousands of lives while also saving the NHS billions every year.
More than six million adults already take statins, saving around 10,000 lives a year.
The Government’s heart disease czar Roger Boyle says all older people should ideally be taking statins or a polypill, new tablets being developed which contain the drugs.
And last month heart expert Professor Malcolm Law wrote in the British Medical Journal that everyone over 55 should be given statins in the same way that everyone would be offered a vaccine against swine flu if it became serious.
Although low dose statins can be bought over the counter, effective versions of the drugs cannot legally be purchased without a prescription.
The latest review analysed the results of ten large trials involving more than 70,000 patients who did not have established cardiovascular disease.
The trials compared statin therapy with placebo agents or no treatment and tracked patients for an average of four years.
Deaths from all causes were cut by 12 per cent among those taking statins, and the risk of major events such as a heart attack went down by 30 per cent. The risk of a stroke was cut by 19 per cent.
No significant treatment differences were found between men and women, young and old, and those with and without diabetes. There was no raised risk of cancer, feared as a possible side effect.
Dr Jasper Brugts of Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, which carried out the study, said the findings justify giving statins to those without established cardiovascular disease, but with risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Writing on the BMJ website, he aid: ‘People at increased risk for cardiovascular disease should not be denied the relative benefits of long-term statin use.’
He said men over 65 with risk factors, or older women with diabetes and risk factors, would probably benefit most.
At present, those with established risk factors including diabetes are eligible for statins because they are being prescribed for secondary prevention of heart and circulatory problems.
The big issue is whether taking statins would benefit ‘healthy’ people for primary prevention.
A drive is planned by GPs over the next five years where adults aged 40 to 74 will be invited for a health check to identify heart and stroke risk, as well as kidney disease. Anyone in this age group who is believed to have a 20 per cent risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke over the next ten years will be eligible for the drugs.
It is thought that 15million people will benefit from checks. The move could prevent a further 15,000 heart ‘events’ each year, such as heart attacks and strokes, in addition to the 7,000 heart attacks already being prevented.
But GP Dr Malcolm Kendrick, author of The Great Cholesterol Con, said the jury was still out on whether statins provide any overall health benefit for people without a history of heart disease.
Dr Kendrick, a long-standing sceptic about statins for those at low risk of heart problems, said: ‘The suggestion that people at low risk should be taking drugs for the rest of their lives is not supported by the trials.
In addition to the lack of benefit and expense, statins carry a substantial burden of side effects.’
The Department of Health said it would study the findings.
Source:Mail Online. 1st. July.’09
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