Statins should be prescribed to all men over 60 and women over 75, a major study claims.
It says almost 12million adults in England ought to take the pills, which lower cholesterol, to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
However, 6.3million are not using the drugs – even though they are considered to be at high risk.
Yet, on the same day, the Royal College of GPs has warned they are being ‘needlessly doled out’ and called for an end to the ‘blanket prescription’ of statins, arguing otherwise healthy people are being unnecessarily ‘medicalised’.
It adds that if 100 people with a 10 per cent heart disease risk within 10 years took the cholesterol-lowering drugs, as recommended by NICE, only four would be protected against the condition.
Statins should be prescribed to all men over 60 and women over 75, a major study claims
UP TO 67% OF HEART PATIENTS ARE AT RISK OF DEADLY BLEEDS AFTER WRONGLY BEING PRESCRIBED ANTICOAGULANTS
Up to 67 per cent of heart patients are being put at risk of bleeding by wrongly being prescribed anticoagulants, research revealed last month.
Patients with an irregular heartbeat who are at risk of bleeding are almost just as likely to be prescribed anticoagulants as those without such concerns, a study found.
After studying patients with an irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation (AF), for 12 years, researchers found up to 67.2 per cent were prescribed anticoagulants against medical advice, compared to up to 67.7 per cent who were actually eligible for such treatment.
Anticoagulants, such as warfarin, reduce a patient’s risk of stroke by making blood less likely to clot. Yet, these drugs can cause bleeding in certain people.
Study author Professor Tom Marshall from the University of Birmingham, told MailOnline: ‘Anticoagulants can cause a bleed, which may be internal and require a transfusion in hospital. It could also be fatal in some cases.’
Statins could save up to 290,000 lives a year
The research estimated that if all eligible adults did take statins, 290,000 heart attacks and strokes would be avoided each year.
The US study from Harvard University provides the most in-depth estimate so far of the number of adults in England who should be on statins.
According to guidance from the British health watchdog NICE, the pills should be offered to anyone with a 10 per cent risk of having a heart attack or stroke within a decade.
The researchers used this to work out how many adults should take statins based on the population’s age range, ethnicity and general health.
They claim the pills should be given to 11.8million adults.
But the fact that more than half do not receive them suggests the medication is significantly under-prescribed by GPs and shunned by patients.
The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, found that each family doctor would have to offer statins to an extra 200 patients for the guidelines to be met.
However, many patients, GPs and academics are worried about the side-effects of the pills, which include diabetes, muscle ache and memory loss. But other experts, including NICE, say the benefits far outweigh any risks.
Previous research by experts at the University of Oxford suggested the drugs prevent at least 80,000 heart attacks and strokes a year.
Heart disease which includes heart attacks, is the second biggest killer in the UK (stock)
There are no specific figures for the number of men aged over 60 or women over 75 who are currently taking statins.
Men tend to have heart attacks and strokes earlier in life than women, which is why they are more likely to be prescribed them at a younger age.
But if, say, a third of men over 60 are taking the pills then this will need to treble to meet the NICE guidelines.
The US study by Dr Peter Ueda, of Harvard Chan School of Public Health, concludes: ‘Under the guidelines, 11.8million (37 per cent) adults in England aged 30 to 84 years, including almost all males over 60 years and all females over 75 years, would be eligible for statin therapy.’
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said patients should only take medication if they need to
But it adds: ‘It is, however, unlikely that all eligible adults will receive statins.’
Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for guidelines at NICE, said: ‘Heart disease and stroke are largely age-related, killing one in three of us and disabling many more.
‘To make progress in the battle against heart disease and stroke, we must encourage exercise, improve our diets, stop smoking, and where appropriate offer statins to people at risk.’
Heart disease which includes heart attacks and strokes, is the second biggest killer in the UK after cancer. It kills 160,000 a year and leaves thousands with a disability or brain damage.
Avoid blanket policies
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, argued: ‘We should be focusing on those who are at higher risk rather than attempting blanket policies that, at an individual level, have a very limited benefit,’ The Telegraph reported.
She said: ‘As with any drug, taking statin medication has potential side-effects, and taking any medication long-term is a substantial undertaking for patients.
‘Patients should only take medication if they need to, and specifically they are at high risk of developing conditions that statins can help prevent.
‘We need to get the risk scores right. If we find that all men over 60 and all women over 75 are going to be eligible for statins with new risk scoring, regardless of any other risk factor, then it should ring alarm bells because it is not clear that every 60-year-old man or 75-year-old woman is going to benefit from statin therapy.’