Statins May be Overprescribed in Low-Risk Patients

Statins, popular cholesterol lowering drugs like Levacor, Zocor, Pravachol, Lipitor, and <"">Crestor, may be overprescribed, according to a new study. The review, conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration, a nonprofit research organization, found statins may be of little benefit in patients who have high cholesterol, but no other risk factor for heart disease.

Statins have been shown to reduce heart attacks, strokes, and deaths in higher risk patients such as those with diabetes or established heart disease. But the drugs are often prescribed for people with less than a 10 percent risk of having a heart attack in the next 10 years. According to a report from The Boston Globe, American Heart Association recommends that low-risk patients with high cholesterol consider taking a statin if lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise or weight loss, don’t work to bring cholesterol levels down. However, statins do carry rare but serious side effects, including the breakdown of muscle tissue, memory loss and a nervous system malfunction called neuropathy.

Now however, authors of the newly-published Cochrane review are questioning prescribing practices, after they found little benefit in using statins to prevent heart disease in healthy populations. The analysis pooled data on 34,272 patients from 14 randomized controlled trials, and 11 of these examined the effects of statins in people with risk factors, including raised lipids, diabetes, hypertension, and microalbuminuria.

The Cochrane reviewers reported that there was insufficient evidence to support the use of statins in patients with no history of heart disease. They also pointed out problems with many of the trials, including selective reporting of outcomes (‘cherry picking’), failure to report adverse events and inclusion of people with cardiovascular disease.

“This review highlights important shortcomings in our knowledge about the effects of statins in people who have no prior history of [cardiovascular disease],” said lead study author Fiona Taylor, of the Cochrane Heart Group in London. “The decision to prescribe statins in this group should not be taken lightly.”

The review’s authors define low risk as having a less than 1 percent chance of dying from any cause or having a less than 2 percent chance of suffering some sort of cardiovascular event.

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