Statins prescriptions 'very effective and safe', insist leading doctors

Government advisors have been accused of underestimating the side effects of the drugs

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Statins are “very effective and safe”, leading cardiologists and researchers have said, accusing doctors who have raised concerns about plans to prescribe them to millions more people of acting upon “prejudice, belief and anecdote”.

New proposals which could see the cholesterol lowering drugs prescribed to anyone with even a low risk of heart attack or stroke have been attacked as the “medicalisation of society”, while Government advisors have been accused of underestimating the side effects of the drugs.

However, a panel of six experts today gave their staunch backing to the new draft guidance from NICE, which would see them prescribed to anyone with a one in 10 risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years: potentially up to 10 million patients.

Peter Weissberg, cardiologist medical director of British Heart Foundation, said that in terms of “medicalising society”, the use of statins in such a large group was no different to the use of vaccinations, which are given to entire populations.

Currently statins are given to around seven million people, and are recommended for anyone with a one in five or higher risk of heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years, or who have already suffered a major cardiac event.

 “The biggest threat to good medicine is prejudice, belief and anecdote,” Professor Weissberg said. “As human beings we’re all influenced by our own personal experience. That’s why in medicine we need objective evidence to guide our prescribing - that comes from randomised controlled trials.”

Professor Sir Rory Collins, co-director of Oxford University’s Clinical Trial Service Unit, which has carried out major studies into statins effectiveness and side effects, said that data showed that the benefits well outweighed the risks.

He said that recent claims in an article in the British Medical Journal, later withdrawn, that 20 per cent of patients suffered side effects, may have “put off high-risk patients from taking their treatment”.

Data from randomised controlled trials showed that taking statins led to only a 0.05 per cent increased risk of serious muscle pain, and the same small extra risk of hemorrhagic stroke, he said.

By contrast, the risk of heart attack or other kinds of stroke fell by between six and 12 per cent for high risk patients, and three to five per cent for lower risk patients.

Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist who has spearheaded calls for the new NICE guidance to be scrapped, agreed there was “no doubt” statins had a role in treating patients at high risk. However, he said that it was “clear” that statins would not extend life in low risk groups.

The British Medical Association and senior figures including the president of the Royal College of Physicians have also spoken out against the new guidance.

Dr Malhotra also raised concerns that full industry data on statins’ effectiveness and side effects had not been made publicly available. 

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