Should statins become statutory?

A study carried out by researchers at the University of Oxford recommends that the cholesterol-lowering drugs, statins, should be prescribed to healthy people, as well as those at risk of problems with high cholesterol. The recommendation forms the conclusion of a study of 175,000 people published in the Lancet this week.

Currently, statins are offered to people with a 20% or higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next ten years. The statins work to combat this risk by lowering levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol, known simply as ‘bad cholesterol’, can lead to blocked blood vessels resulting in heart attacks and stroke. This new report states that it is not just high cholesterol that is a problem, the researchers have learnt that “…reducing it further is beneficial. Whatever your level of risk, the benefits [of lowering cholesterol] greatly exceed any known hazard.”

Professor Colin Baigent, one of the researchers on the study, advised that by prescribing statins to those patients with only a 10% risk of cardiovascular would lead to 2000 fewer deaths every year. Many strokes or heart attacks arise unexpectedly in previously healthy people and Prof Baigent emphasised that “…we’ve got to consider treating healthy people.”

The research has called for the National Institute of Clinical Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to review and update its guidelines. A review will now be started to bring the guidelines up-to-date and the results are expected towards the end of 2013.

A fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. Full medical glossary
Disease of the heart and blood vessels, usually due to atherosclerosis. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of all living organisms. Full medical glossary
A substance present in many tissues and an important constituent of cell membranes although high concentrations of a certain type of cholesterol in the blood are unhealthy. Full medical glossary
The death of a section of heart muscle caused by an interruption in its blood supply. Also called a myocardial infarction. Full medical glossary
intermittent claudication Full medical glossary
One of a group of compounds that consist of a protein combined with a lipid, and help to transport lipids in the blood and lymphatic system. Full medical glossary
Compounds that form the structure of muscles and other tissues in the body, as well as comprising enzymes and hormones. Full medical glossary
One of a class of drugs that inhibit cholesterol formation in the liver. Full medical glossary
A class of drugs that inhibit cholesterol formation in the liver. Full medical glossary
Any sudden neurological problem caused by a bleed or a clot in a blood vessel. Full medical glossary
Relating to blood vessels. Full medical glossary