About 50% of patients taking statins fail to reduce cholesterol to “healthy levels”, study shows

Statins are a class of medicines designed to reduce cholesterol linked to heart disease and strokes; as the World Health Organization notes that cardiovascular diseases are currently the leading killers globally, statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States and Great Britain. However a study has shown that millions of people who use statins failed to reduce cholesterol levels after two years of treatment.

British researchers reviewed public health records of 165,000 patients taking statins and found that fewer than one-in-two patients reached healthy cholesterol levels; the recommended percentage is 40%, but even after two years said patients could not reach that number.

Ralph Kwame Akyea, a research associate at the University of Nottingham, said that, “Statins do work and are effective, but some trials have highlighted there have been variations in responses among some patients. But we’ve shown there are some people not reaching this (safe cholesterol level) and the reducing of their risk is lower.”

Study findings

Akyea’s study found that on average people started taking statins at the age of 62, and nearly 23,000 cases of cardiovascular disease within six years of statin treatment – in total only 51% had an insufficient drop in cholesterol levels.

The study was the largest of its kind to date, but Akyea stressed that it could not determine why some patients had a positive response to statins while others didn’t.  “Probably some people would have stopped taking their medication, maybe they had side effects,” said the scientist, “There might also be a role played by genetic variation. Not everyone responds to the medication and there are currently studies looking at the genetics of drug response.”

Statins’ future

The cholesterol-lowering industry is worth billions of dollars, but guidelines over who should take statins are often unclear. Changes to statin prescription guidelines will see the drugs be given to more than 55 million people in the United States and 12 million in Great Britain in the future.

Akyea recommends better monitoring is needed to ensure statin patients are taking the correct dosages for the prescribed amount of time. A linked editorial by Marco Bittencourt, from Sao Paulo’s University Hospital, noted the results were “clearly alarming” but stressed statins are proven to reduce chances heart attacks and strokes for those at risk.

“Patients and society should be educated on the scientific evidence documenting the benefits of lipid lowering therapy. Anti-statin propaganda based on pseudoscience should be strongly disavowed,” wrote Bittencourt.

Story from AFP

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