Health knowledge and news provided by doctors.

Scrutiny Over Benefit Of Using Statins

Armen Hareyan's picture

Two newspapers on Tuesdayreported on scrutiny of statin use and whether the drugs provide prolonged lifeor benefits to patients with high cholesterol. Summaries appear below.

  • New York Times: In the "fallout from the headline-making trial of Vytorin, a combination drug that was found to be no more effective than a simple statin in reducing arterial plaque, many people are asking a more fundamental question about statins in general: Do they prolong your life?" the Times reports. According to the Times, middle-aged men with cardiovascular disease were less likely to die if they were taking a statin compared to those taking a placebo. However, "many statin users don't have established heart disease; they simply have high cholesterol," and "there is little evidence, if any, that taking a statin will make a meaningful difference in how long" people without heart disease live, the Times reports. In addition, "critics say there's no evidence that statin users have a better quality of life than other people," according to the Times. Mark Ebell, a professor at the University of Georgia and deputy editor of the journal American Family Physician, said, "High-risk groups have a lot to gain" from taking statins, but "patients at low risk benefit very little, if at all. We end up overtreating a lot of patients" (Parker-Pope, New York Times, 1/29).
  • Philadelphia Inquirer: Cholesterol-lowering drugs have been shown to "reduce the risk of death, heart attack and other problems in patients with cardiovascular disease, but it is less clear that they help patients ... who don't yet have heart disease," the Inquirer reports. According to the Inquirer, two analyses of scientific literature have shown that between "200 and 250 people with high cholesterol but no known cardiovascular disease must take a statin daily for three to five years to prevent one death." However, a similar analysis that tracked patients for an average of more than six-and-a-half years found that if 68 patients with high cholesterol "followed a more careful diet, one death could be avoided," according to the Inquirer. The Inquirer reports, "Given the financial stakes -- cholesterol-lowering drugs generated $21.6 billion from U.S. sales in 2006 -- some wonder whether studies that question the benefits of the medications ever reach the public" (Goldstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/29).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.