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health world

Those with low risk of heart disease might not benefit from statin drugs, British researchers say

January 19, 2011|By Mary Forgione, Tribune Health
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

Statin drugs are used by millions of Americans to lower cholesterol, but should they be so widespread? A new study suggests maybe not. British researchers say there's little evidence that statin drugs prevent heart disease in people who are at low risk for the disease.

The study involved a review of data on 34,272 patients at low risk for heart attack and stroke between 1994 and 2006. It was conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that reviews medical research.

Researchers reported problems with 14 prior studies that examined the use of statin drugs on low-risk heart patients. The report says in part: “Only limited evidence showed that primary prevention with statins may be cost effective and improve patient quality of life. Caution should be taken in prescribing statins for primary prevention among people at low cardiovascular risk.” Here's the full report.

So who should be taking statins? MayoClinic.com outlines these risk factors for people with high cholesterol: 

--"family history of high cholesterol or cardiovascular disease;
--inactive (sedentary) lifestyle;
--high blood pressure;
--age older than 55 if you're a man, or older than 65 if you're a woman;
--poor general health;
--having diabetes;
--overweight or obesity;
--smoking;
--and narrowing of the arteries in your neck, arms or legs (peripheral artery disease)."

And this Food and Drug Administration report examines the types of statins and tips on how to lower your cholesterol without taking drugs. This isn't the first report to raise an eyebrow at the widespread use of statins. And it may not be the last.

But that doesn't mean you should stop taking statins if your doctor has prescribed them. You just may want to discuss what risk factors you have for heart disease -- and act accordingly.

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