Should more of us be prescribed Statins?

Posted by Patricia Wakeford on

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I wrote a blog in 2014 when The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) were asking professionals to comment on the use of statins. Healthcare professionals were being asked to consider prescribing them to a wider class of people.

The review in the Lancet is backed by health organisations and there is some concern that the review may not be independent. However, it is said to be based on large scale randomised trials. Placebos were used in the trials and appear to suggest that "almost all" the problems previously linked to the statins are not in fact caused by them. It is suggested that exaggerated claims about adverse effects may be preventing their use more regularly.

Statins are prescribed for people who are at risk of cardivascular events. Generally such people have diabetes, raised blood pressure, raised cholesterol or have had a heart attack previously. They help to lower the amount of fatty build up in blood vessels which can lead to a blockage. It is suggested that two million more people should be taking them. However, this raises concerns about people taking medication that may not be necessary.

The study indicates that 1,000 cardiovascular events could be avoided in those who had existing vascular disease due to the reduction in cholesterol levels.

I read a recent article about how cardiac events in women are often misdiagnosed. This is because women can have signs and symptoms not necessarily associated with a heart attack. This can lead to delays in diagnosis and adverse consequences including death.

Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal calls for further thorough, independent research into the use of statins. It is understandable that if the number of people having cardiac events reduces; this will lead to a reduction in costs for the NHS. This is a good thing. However, are there other ways of mitigating against such events, for example, by diet and exercise changes which might have the same result in people who do have some risk, but a lower risk?

It will be interesting to see what research follows, as this research has raised concerns about independence. It is however persuasive, and if I was in the at risk category I would probably agree to take statins, whilst being aware of any potential side effects.

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About the Author

Photograph of Patricia Wakeford

Patricia is a Senior Associate, in our Clinical Negligence team, and is also a qualified midwife with many years of experience working in the NHS.

Patricia Wakeford
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