Doctors are risking people’s lives because they are unnecessarily concerned about prescribing statins, a leading medical academic has warned.
Professor Sir Rory Collins, from Oxford University, said he believes the public are being made unjustifiably worried about taking the cholesterol-reducing drug, in a scenario that echoes the MMR vaccine controversy.
“It is a serious disservice to British and international medicine," he told The Guardian.
Professor Collins was particularly critical of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) for publishing articles written by two critics of statins, which he claimed were probably killing even more people than were harmed as a result of Andrew Wakefield’s divisive paper on the MMR vaccine.
“I would think the papers on statins are far worse in terms of the harm they have done,” he said.
Statins are taken by around 7 million people in the UK who have at least a 20 per cent risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years.
But this number could soon rise - following a study overseen by Collins’ team at Oxford in 2012, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommended in February that statins should be given to people at only 10 per cent risk.
However, many doctors are reluctant to medicate essentially healthy people to prevent, rather than treat, illness and have expressed concern over the potential side effects, which include headaches, insomnia and nausea and, in rare instances, muscle and kidney problems.
Professor Collins criticised two papers published by the BMJ – one by John Abramson, a clinician working at Harvard medical school, and the other by Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist in the UK.
Both doctors said statins did not reduce mortality and that side effects meant they did more harm than good.
The Oxford academic said the claims were misleading and were damaging public confidence: “We have really good data from over 100,000 people that show that the statins are very well tolerated. There are only one or two well-documented [problematic] side effects.”
A recent study by researchers at Imperial College London found that statins have virtually no side effects, with users experiencing fewer adverse symptoms than if they had taken a placebo.
The NHS estimates that statins save 7,000 lives a year in the UK.