Technology & Science

Statins have limited value for low-risk cases: review

There's little reason for people without a history of heart disease to take cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, a new analysis suggests.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs reduce death rates by only a fraction

There's little reason for people without a history of heart disease to take cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, a new analysis suggests. 

For people with a history of cardiovascular disease, which accounts for nearly a third of deaths worldwide, statins can help save lives.

The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research, conducted a review of studies on 34, 272 patients to try to determine the value of statins for people without a history of cardiovascular disease.

While statins require a prescription in Canada and the U.S., in England, one statin medication is sold over the counter.

The review of the largely industry-sponsored research published Wednesday concluded the drugs did help reduce death rates but only by a fraction for people at low risk of heart disease.

It's possible that for healthy people, statins may even do more harm than good, the reviewers said, pointing out that many of the 14 randomized control trials reviewed were flawed and limited by unclear, selective study design and potential bias.

"Only limited evidence showed that primary prevention with statins may be cost effective and improve patient quality of life," concluded lead researcher Fiona Taylor, of the Cochrane Heart Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and her co-authors.

"Caution should be taken in prescribing statins for primary prevention among people at low cardiovascular risk."

Based on the pooled results of all the studies, treating 1,000 people with statins for one year would reduce the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease from nine to eight, the reviewers estimated.

Some of the studies dated back to 1994 and used statins that are considered less effective.