While popping a statin each day can reduce the risk of further cardiovascular problems for people who have previously suffered heart problems, there’s plenty of conflicting data about the effectiveness of the medication in reducing heart attacks and stroke in healthy older people who haven’t experienced any such issues in the past.
Now, a new study by the European Society of Cardiology is one of the first to show that healthy older people who had previously taken statins to avoid cardiovascular complications for at least two years, but stopped taking them, are actually at increased risk of being admitted to hospital with heart or blood vessel problems.
The French study of 120,173 over-75s found the risk of cardiovascular events increased by 33 per cent when they stopped taking statins – medication that lowers levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
Researchers are now encouraging older people who take statins to prevent the risk of cardiovascular disease to continue doing so, with lead author Philippe Giral saying: “To patients, we would say that if you are regularly take statins for high cholesterol, we would recommend you don’t stop the treatment when you are 75.
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“To doctors, we would recommend not stopping statin treatment given for primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases in your patients aged 75.”
The research, published in the European Heart Journal, included only people with good cardiovascular health and excluded all people who had been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or those who took other medications to treat or prevent heart or blood vessel problems to truly evaluate the impacts withholding from statin use had on health. Patients were analysed for up to four years and it was found that 14.3 per cent of people stopped taking statins for at least three consecutive months and 4.5 per cent of patients were admitted to hospital for cardiovascular problems.
The study found people discontinue their statin treatment for a number of reasons, ranging from its impact other health problems, changes in their daily care or because they’re experiencing adverse side effects. Researchers found people who stopped taking statins had a 33 per cent increased risk of experiencing any cardiovascular events, a 46 per cent increased risk of a coronary event and a 26 per cent increased risk of blood vessel problems such as stroke.
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“We estimated that an extra 2.5 cardiovascular events per 100 people would occur within four years among those who discontinued their statins at the age of 75 years compared to those who continued taking their statins,” Giral explained.
Because the study is observational, retrospective and non-randomised, researchers stress that they can’t show that discontinuing statins can cause a heart attack or stroke, but there’s an association to it. Still, they note that these types of studies can still provide useful information to doctors and patients and contribute to establish more precise guidelines on the use of statins for primary prevention in the older population.
It follows conflicting research published in the Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology Journal last year which claimed there is no evidence that links LDL cholesterol to heart disease, with researchers claiming statins may be ineffective in protecting people against these cardiovascular events. That study found that while high cholesterol has been considered the major cause of cardiovascular disease for 50 years, the mechanisms of the disease are more complicated and when used as a primary source of prevention, the benefit of statins to prevent heart disease is doubtful.
It’s always important to talk to a health professional about statin use, if it’s something your health will benefit from and if you plan to stop taking them.
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