A large study of the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins concludes that their aggressive use in people who are at high risk for heart attack or stroke appears to dramatically reduce the likelihood of a coronary event.
Statin drugs are considered the wonder pills of modern medicine. And now their value may go up several more notches.
English and Australian researchers, analyzing the results of 14 studies involving 90,000 people, conclude, in essence, that statin drugs could save your life.
Medical researcher Colin Baigent of Oxford University says the data show the aggressive use of statin drugs is beneficial in patients whose L.D.L., or "bad," cholesterol might not be addressed.
"Wherever you start, whether you are normal or even low, a large reduction from that level downwards, will produce additional benefits; will produce a benefit that's substantial in terms of reducing major vascular events, such as heart disease and stroke," said Colin Baigent. "And the bigger the reduction, in our study, the bigger the reductions in heart disease and stroke that we saw."
The finding of the study, published in the September 26 issue of the Lancet, is consistent with the view of a growing number of cardiac researchers that statins are well-tolerated drugs that should be used liberally to prevent heart attack and stroke.
But Dr. Baigent says many doctors will not treat high risk patients with statins if their LDL is in the normal range. This includes patients with a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, those who smoke or are obese, or have a combination of factors.
Dr. Baigent says the study shows that using statin drugs to achieve a 40 to 50 percent drop in "bad" cholesterol below what is considered an acceptable level results in significant protection.
"We would predict that you would experience a one fifth reduction in your high risk, so that you would have a substantial benefit," he said. "You're right, this is a change in the paradigm that doctors are used to working with. But I think it is an extension of the move that we already see in many guidelines around the world to think about a patient's risk rather than their particular cholesterol level or their particular blood pressure level."
The study analyzed data over five years. Dr. Baigent says it does not appear there is any medical reason why patients should not take statin drugs for a longer period of time.