In the GP's view: Selling statins over the counter is a very risky strategy
THE announcement that statins are likely to be sold without prescription by pharmacists should be received with caution.
As most readers will know, statins lower the level of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or ‘bad' cholesterol, in the blood. This fat, mostly made in the liver, is one of the major contributing causes of atheroma or plaque, the unhealthy deposit that builds up in the lining of arteries and can lead to heart attacks and stroke.
Years of research have confirmed that the long-term prescription of a statin to those with a history of heart attack will reduce the chances of another episode – this is called secondary prevention.
Primary prevention is when steps are taken to try to avoid arterial disease in a person who is currently in good health.
GPs make a calculation based on age, weight, sex, ethnicity, family history, blood pressure and smoking. If the risk of a person one day experiencing a catastrophic event from arterial disease is greater than 20 per cent, a statin may be prescribed as a preventative measure.
If statins were to be available via pharmacists – highly trained professionals – they would perform the same assessment with customers and provide regular follow-ups. This would be a highly desirable service.
What is not desirable is for people to pop a few pills now and then, when they feel anxious after hearing a friend of a friend has dropped dead, as opposed to commencing a long-term regimen under diligent supervision.
Taking statins is not the be-all and end-all of heart attack and stroke prevention. Attention to weight, dietary control, blood pressure and smoking is no less important.
It is not good enough to swallow a pill and feel you have paid your dues to the fates.
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