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Study: Statins Could Benefit Those at Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

  • Carol Pearson

FILE - One kind of statin used for lowering blood cholesterol, 40 milligram tablets of Lipitor, are shown in Glen Rock, N.J., Nov. 15, 2005.

For people who are at risk of getting cardiovascular disease — but don’t yet have it — a U.S. task force and a large, international study conclude they could benefit from taking a daily pill.

Worldwide, 1 billion people are affected by cardiovascular disease — diseases of the heart and blood vessels — and more than 17 million will die from them this year.

In the U.S., cardiovascular disease kills 1-in-3 Americans. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force decided to review risk factors and prevention measures to try to change that.

“The risk factors for cardiovascular disease include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and your age,” said Dr. Douglas Owens, a task force member who has reviewed the data on cardiovascular disease.

Watch: Statins could benefit those at risk for cardiovascular disease

What statins do

Family history is also a factor. To combat the disease, many doctors recommend taking a daily cholesterol-lowering drug called a statin.

“A statin is a drug that helps reduce the production of cholesterol in the liver,” Owens said. “It primarily works by lowering the LDL cholesterol, which is the so-called bad cholesterol.”

The task force now recommends that adults age 40 and older at risk for cardiovascular disease take a daily statin. The recommendations appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But it’s not just Americans who could benefit.

Worldwide study

An earlier study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that most people at risk for cardiovascular disease would be better off taking a statin drug.

The study involved a racially diverse group of people on six continents, living in 21 countries, including men and women.

All were at risk for developing cardiovascular disease. In a five-year period, those taking a statin reduced their risk of heart attacks, strokes or heart-related deaths by 24 percent.

“The benefits of statins are a reduction in heart attack, strokes and death,” Owens said. “And in patients who are at elevated risk for cardiovascular disease, the benefits outweigh the harms.”

The researchers say this shows a very simple approach to treatment that can be provided around the world: Have older adults at risk of developing cardiovascular disease take a statin. They say the medication is inexpensive enough to make this practical.

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