Statin therapy reduces cardiovascular disease risk in older people


Statin therapy reduces major vascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, in a wide range of people, including those over the age of 75, according to new research from MRC scientists.

For the new study, MRC scientists worked with Australian researchers to assess the effects of statins in nearly 187,000 people who had taken part in 28 large clinical trials. Participants were divided into six age groups from 55 to over 75 years old to assess the effects of statins on major vascular events, deaths and cancer incidence. 

Statins help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood and are prescribed to millions of people globally. Having a high level of LDL cholesterol can lead to hardening and narrowing of the arteries and cardiovascular disease.

The researchers found that, overall, statin treatment reduced the risk of a major vascular event by about a quarter for each millimole per litre reduction in LDL cholesterol, even in older people. In addition, the new study found that statin therapy did not increase the risk of deaths from non-cardiovascular disease, or the risk of cancer, at any age.

Co-investigator, Professor Calin Baigent, Director of the MRC Population Health Research Unit at the University of Oxford, said: “The risk of heart attacks and strokes increases markedly with age, and yet statins are not utilised as widely in older people as they should be. Since the risk of heart attack and stroke increases with age, the potential benefits are likely to be even greater for older people.”

Baigent said: “Therefore there is a need to ensure that patients at risk of cardiovascular disease due to their age are offered statin therapy where there is good reason to believe that it will be beneficial. Anyone with concerns about whether statin therapy is suitable for them should discuss this with their GP.”

Cardiovascular risk reductions were observed, irrespective of age, in people with or without known vascular disease at the start of the trials. The evidence was less extensive in people aged over 75 who did not already have evidence of vascular disease (those who were prescribed statin therapy for the ‘primary prevention’ of heart attacks and strokes). New randomised trials are now studying the effects of statins in more depth in apparently healthy older people.

Lead investigator, Professor Anthony Keech, Professor of Medicine, Cardiology and Epidemiology at the University of Sydney, said: “Statin therapy has been shown to prevent cardiovascular disease in a wide range of people, but there has been uncertainty about its efficacy and safety among older people. Our study summarised the available evidence to help clarify this issue. We found that there were significant reductions in heart attacks and strokes in each of the six age groups considered, including patients aged over 75 at the start of treatment.”

The work was funded by the MRC, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF). 

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The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health.

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