Millions more to be prescribed statins to lower cholesterol
New NHS draft guidelines could mean millions more Brits are prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins to stave off heart attacks and strokes. Current recommendations – implemented back in 2005 - mean that anybody with a 20% or greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease in the following decade are offered statins such as atorvastatin or pravastatin. The risk is calculated using factors such as age, weight, whether the person smokes and if there is a family history of the disease. However, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) say the treatment should be broadened to include more people in order to save thousands more lives. Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the UK, claiming around 180,000 lives annually. NICE now says that anyone with a risk at one in 10 or 10% should be offered statin medication, resulting in an estimated five million more Brits now taking the drugs, saving 2,000 lives and preventing 10,000 heart attacks or strokes every year. This is according to Professor Colin Baigent, from the Oxford University team who conducted research published in The Lancet into the potential benefits of statins to more patients, finding the benefits of statins far exceed any side effects. The new guidelines state doctors will be required to “make a judgment” about their patients with less than a 10% risk of developing cardiovascular disease and advise them accordingly. NiCE says the draft guidance will make clear doctors need to work with at-risk patients to encourage them to improve lifestyle factors first that could put at risk, such as drinking less, stopping smoking and adhering to a healthy diet. After these issues have been tended to, the patients should then be offered high intensity statin therapy. Presently, around seven million people in the UK are currently statins; incredibly this is over a tenth of the UK’s population. Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for clinical practice at NICE, said: “People should be encouraged to address any lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking too much or eating unhealthily. We also recommend that statins are now offered to many more people - the effectiveness of these medicines is now well proven and their cost has fallen.” Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Reducing your cholesterol level, whether that's through medication or lifestyle changes, will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. The current guidance weighed the benefits of taking a statin against what was then the considerable cost to the health service. This pragmatic decision made sure that those of highest risk benefited. However, as most people who have a heart attack or stroke have average cholesterol levels and since statins are now much cheaper it makes sense to reconsider the threshold.” Unfortunately, actually getting people to take their statins appears to be another issue. A 2012 study conducted by the British Heart Foundation discovered that an alarming 36% were not taking them.