Overwhelming evidence shows statins are 'very effective and safe'
The benefits of cholesterol-boosting statins far outweigh the risks and the “jury is no longer out”, leading health experts said yesterday. Six professors from British universities decided to wade into the fierce debate about Britain’s most prescribed type of medication, and said there is now overwhelming evidence clearly demonstrating cholesterol-lowering statins such as atorvastatin and rosuvastatin are “very effective and safe”. Presently, there are an estimated seven million people prescribed statins in the UK alone, with the drug recommended for anybody who has a one in five or higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke in the proceeding 10 years, or who have already had a major cardiac event. However, there have been calls to widen the scope for who is eligible, with many health experts saying there should be more people taking them than the current guidelines recommend. However, the heart drugs were in the news earlier this year when they made headlines for their apparent dangerous risks. In May for example, researchers involved in a study into statins published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) were forced to backtrack on claims the drugs increased a patient’s diabetes risk, admitting the claims were incorrect. Professor Sir Rory Collins, head of the Nuffield Department of Population Health at Oxford University, said: “Side effects could put off high-risk patients from taking their life-saving medication. Major vascular events such as heart attacks or stroke are life-changing events for many people so to avoid these is important. The benefits outweigh the risks. The evidence is substantial that the treatment is safe but it remains a choice but one they can only make if they are not misinformed.” Professor Collins added that it was not uncommon for older people prescribed statins to have aches and pains, but that these symptoms were just as likely to be suffered by those not taking statins. George Davey Smith, professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Bristol, argued that 25 years of research had showed definitive evidence about the major benefits of statin use. He said: “The jury is no longer out on the cost/benefit ratio.” Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, added: “If you take a statin your risk will reduce of having a heart attack or stroke. If you are at negligible risk all you are doing is exposing yourself to a low risk of side effects.” So it seems statins are here to stay for the long-term, with their efficacy and safety surely no longer in question. After the BMJ story was published, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) were quick to publish a rebuttal, issuing a safety update reassuring patients that statins were safe. They commented that 450 deaths from heart attacks, stroke or vascular failure would be avoided for each 10,000 patients treated, if patients at a 20% or higher risk of suffering one of these over a 10-year period were taking statins for at least five years.