Published on 10 October 2018

Though medication shown to reduce risk of heart-related conditions in people with diabetes.

A study looking into the effectiveness of taking statins for older people has found that taking the medication may make no difference to their chances of developing heart disease.

Most people over the age of 75 are prescribed statins in the UK, as health guidelines recommend that people with a 10% or higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years should be offered the treatment.

However, a recent study by researchers in Spain, published in BMJ, found that unless the person prescribed statins has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes there may be no benefit to taking the treatment.

Research was carried out by scientists from Institut Universitari d'Investigacio en Atencio Primaria Jordi Gol, the Catalan Institut of Health, the Municipal Institute for Medical Research and the University of Salamanca.

Researchers studied 46,864 people aged 75 and over, 7,502 of whom were prescribed statins for the first time, from a Spanish database and found that those with diabetes saw a reduction in their risk of heart attack, stroke or death, but those without diabetes seemed to gain no benefit.

The report concluded: “In participants older than 74 years without type 2 diabetes, statin treatment was not associated with a reduction in atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease or in all cause mortality, even when the incidence of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease was statistically significantly higher than the risk thresholds proposed for statin use. In the presence of diabetes, statin use was statistically significantly associated with reductions in the incidence of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and in all cause mortality. This effect decreased after age 85 years and disappeared in nonagenarians.”

An NHS Behind the Headlines report on the study said: “Statins have prolonged the lives of many people after a first heart attack or stroke, and prevented many repeat heart attacks and strokes for these people.

“The benefits of taking statins if you haven't had a heart attack or stroke and don't have cardiovascular risk factors are more controversial.

“There's good evidence that statins can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and having a first heart attack or stroke, although the evidence is less strong for people aged 75 and older.

“UK guidance currently recommends that people are assessed for cardiovascular risk factors up to the age of 84.

“People given statins who didn't have diabetes may on balance have been assessed to have other factors that put them at higher risk.

“In practice, doctors will consider the benefits and potential drawbacks of taking statins on an individual basis. The risks from statins are quite small, and this study found no reason to stop taking them.

“But if you're unsure whether you want to take them or continue taking them, the best answer is to talk to your GP about your individual risk of cardiovascular disease.

“You can then make a decision together, based on your circumstances and preferences.”

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