By Alis Lewis
Research by an Oxford professor has suggested that thousands of heart attacks and strokes could be prevented if cholesterol-lowering drugs were more widely prescribed.
A study of 175,000 patients, published in The Lancet medical journal, found that both healthy and high-risk patients could benefit from using statins.
The researchers, led by Professor Colin Baigent of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, say that the NHS should even consider giving statins to healthy people. The findings also suggest that everyone over the age of 50 should qualify for statin therapy.
NICE, the NHS drugs watchdog, is currently reviewing the results of the study.
Statins are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the UK, with 61 million prescriptions in England alone last year.
If the current guidelines change, as many as 20 million more Britons could be offered the drugs, which would add up to £240m to the NHS’s annual drugs bill.
But the researchers argue the money saved by the NHS due to fewer heart attacks and strokes would outweigh the cost.
Professor Baigent said: “We’ve made great inroads in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, but the fact remains that half of cardiac or stroke deaths occur in healthy people.”
He calculates that up to five million more people would be prescribed statins if the threshold were lowered to a ten percent risk of cardiovascular disease within a decade.
This in turn would save 2,000 lives and prevent 10,000 heart attacks or strokes every year, he said.
Prof Baigent said: “The benefit may be small, but it proves that the benefits greatly exceed any hazard of treatment.”
A spokesman for the watchdog said: “The current guideline recommends statin therapy as part of the management strategy for the primary prevention of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) for adults who have a 20 percent or greater ten-year risk of developing CVD.”
They added: “New evidence on statin treatment thresholds that has become available since publication of the original NICE guideline, including the study reported in The Lancet, will be considered as part of a review.”
The study, published online by the journal, was funded by the British and Australian medical research councils and the British Heart Foundation.