Over 20 million Americans use statin drugs, that is big business. But do they really work? What are statin drugs good for? Here is Professor Stephen Chaney explaining a recent study involving the use of statin drugs and their effectiveness.
Statins – those ubiquitous drugs used to lower cholesterol levels – are big business! Over 20 million Americans are currently being treated with statin drugs at a cost that runs into billions of
dollars every year. Some of my cardiologist friends are so convinced that statin drugs prevent death from heart attacks that they have said, only half-joking, that we should just add statins to the water supply.
Is their faith in the power of statin drugs to prevent death from heart disease justified? One recent study says that it just might not be.
Now, I don’t want anyone to misinterpret what I am going to say next.
If you have already had a heart attack, there is good evidence that statins will reduce the risk of dying from a second heart attack. In the technical jargon of the scientific world that is referred to as secondary prevention.
But what about those millions of Americans who are being prescribed statin drugs who have never had a heart attack? This is something we scientists refer to as primary prevention.
You might be surprised to learn that nobody had actually asked previously whether statin drugs were effective in the primary prevention of dying from a heart attack. All of the previous clinical trials showing beneficial effects of statin drug therapy were done only with secondary-prevention populations (people who had already had a heart attack) or with a mixture of secondary prevention and primary-prevention (people who had not previously had a heart attack) populations.
That is what makes this recent study so interesting!
Dr. Kausik Ray and colleagues from Cambridge University in England performed a meta-analysis of 11 clinical studies involving over 65,000 participants. They focused on those participants in the studies who had not previously had a heart attack (the primary prevention group) and reported their results in the June 28, 2010 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
They found that the use of statins over an average of 3.7 years had no statistically significant effect on all cause mortality. In short, statins had no effect on the risk of dying from heart disease or any other cause.
Dr. Sreenivasa Sechasai, one of the doctors involved in the study, said “We didn’t find a significant reduction in death despite having such a huge sample size. This is the totality of evidence in primary prevention. So if we can’t show a reduction with this data, it is unlikely to be there.”
Does this mean that you should discontinue statin use without consulting your physician? Absolutely not!
There is some evidence that statins may reduce the incidence of non-fatal heart attacks in people who have not previously experienced a heart attack. In addition, many experts still feel that statins are likely to reduce the risk of death from heart disease in certain high risk individuals.
But, you may want to initiate a conversation with your physician about your continued statin use in light of this recent study. He or she can best evaluate your overall risk of heart disease and advise you whether statin use is still appropriate for your level of heart disease risk.
To Your Health!
Dr. Stephen G Chaney
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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