Millions of over-75s ‘get no benefit’ from their statins
GIVING statins to the healthy elderly could be a waste of time, a major study claims.
The research, involving 47,000 over75s, found no evidence that they make any difference to low-risk patients.
Scientists said their results ‘do not support the widespread use of statins’ in this group. The news threatens to inflame the row about the pros and cons of the drugs,which reduce levels of so- called ‘bad’ cholesterol to prevent heart disease.
Since 2014, all over-75s in Britain have been eligible to take statins – which cost no more than £20 a year – even if they are in perfect health. This approach – known as primary prevention – means anyone with a 10 per cent chance of getting heart disease within ten years should have the medication. The just-in- case strategy means all over-75s, most over-60s and some as young as 30 – are eligible for the pills.
Experts agree that statins are lifesavers for two million people who have heart disease or diabetes – particularly those who have already had a heart attack or a stroke. But many doctors question what they call the ‘over-medicalisation’ of the further ten million healthy people who are eligible for statins based on the likelihood that they might become ill. Of the total of 12million eligible, many are reluctant to take a pill for no obvious reason. As a result, only around six million agree to take the drugs.
The latest findings, published in the British Medical Journal, suggest most elderly people do not actually benefit from the pills. Spanish scientists, led by the Catalan Institute of Health and the University of Girona, tracked 46,864 people over 75.
The participants – none of whom had heart disease at the beginning of the study – were monitored for six years.
For most, the scientists found no evidence that use of statins resulted in a reduction in cardiovascular disease or deaths.
The only people who benefited were those with type 2 diabetes aged 75 to 84, for whom the risk of cardiovascular disease went down by 24 per cent and the risk they would die during the study fell by 16 per cent. But even for this group, the protective effect fell after 85 and disappeared by the age of 90. The researchers, led by Dr Rafel Ramos, said statin use for the elderly had increased around the world despite a lack of evidence for any benefit, even though the elderly are more prone to side-effects.
The report concluded: ‘ These results do not support the widespread use of statins in old populations, but do support treatment in those with type 2 diabetes younger than 85.’ But Professor Colin Baigent, of the University of Oxford, criticised the way the study was designed, adding: ‘The problem with this type of study, which used routine health records, is that it is a very unreliable way to determine the effects of statins on the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
‘The only suitable method is a clinical trial where people are allocated to a statin or to no statin entirely at random.’