Science

Statins ‘effective at reducing stroke and heart attack events in over 75s'

Until now, the benefits of cholesterol-lowering medications for older people have been less certain, the researchers said.

Statins are as effective at reducing stroke and heart attack events in over 75s as they are in younger age groups, scientists have said.

Researchers analysed data from more than 240,000 people and found that cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins, reduced the risk of major cardiovascular events in patients aged 75 and above by 26% (per 1mmol/L reduction in cholesterol), compared to a 15% risk reduction in patients younger than 75 years.

However the authors warn that their findings, published in the journal Lancet, do not mean that patients should wait to begin treatment until they are older.

The researchers stress the importance of keeping LDL cholesterol – often called the “bad” cholesterol because the fatty substance collects in the walls of blood vessels – under control in individuals as early as possible to prevent build-up in the arteries.

Professor Marc Sabatine, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, US, and lead author on the study, said: “Cholesterol-lowering medications are affordable drugs that have reduced risk of heart disease for millions of people worldwide, but until now their benefits for older people have remained less certain.

“Our analysis indicates that these therapies are as effective in reducing cardiovascular events and deaths in people aged 75 years and over as they are in younger people.

“We found no offsetting safety concerns and together, these results should strengthen guideline recommendations for the use of cholesterol-lowering medications, including statin and non-statin therapy, in elderly people.”

Meanwhile in another study, also published in the Lancet, a separate team of researchers have found that among people who have not had a previous cardiovascular event, those aged between 70 and 100 years may gain the most benefit from taking medications that lower cholesterol compared to younger age groups.

The observational research, involving more than 90,000 people living in Copenhagen in Denmark, also found that people aged over 70 years had the highest incidence of heart attack and cardiovascular disease of any age group.

Professor Borge Nordestgaard, of the Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark, who is a joint author on the study, said: “Our study provides further evidence for the cumulative burden of LDL cholesterol over a person’s lifetime and the progressive increase in risk for heart attack and cardiovascular disease with age.

“With the proportion of people living beyond 70 years of age worldwide rapidly increasing, these data point to the huge potential for primary prevention strategies aimed at lowering LDL cholesterol levels to reduce the population burden of heart disease.

“The findings should guide decision making about whether older individuals will benefit from statin therapy.”

Commenting on the findings, Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, who was not involved in either of the studies, said: “Many clinical trials have shown that statins reduce heart attacks and strokes, but question marks have remained about how helpful they are in older people.

“This new research not only shows that statins provide significant benefits in people over the age of 75, but that this age group could benefit the most as their risk of heart disease is higher.

“Patients should not be denied a statin simply because of their age.

“Any decision to start taking a statin should be based on a conversation between a patient and their GP, which will take into account an individual’s risk and likely benefit.”

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