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Reality Check: Who should take statins?

From BBC - August 1, 2017

Should you be taking statins? Research from Harvard University suggests "almost all" men over 60 and women over 75 should be doing so in order to help prevent heart attack and stroke.

But the Royal College of GPs has raised the alarm saying this could lead to some older people being prescribed the drug unnecessarily. Its chairwoman, Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard said: "It is not clear that every 60-year-old man or 75-year-old woman is going to benefit from statin therapy."

What are statins?

Statins are a group of drugs designed to lower harmful cholesterol in the blood. Having too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood can lead to a build-up of fatty plaque in the arteries. This so-called "bad cholesterol" can cause blockages and lead to heart disease and stroke.

Statins are tablets taken once a day, and, once prescribed, will usually be taken for life.

The NHS says a review of scientific studies suggests one in 50 people who takes statins for five years, will avoid a "serious event" like a heart attack. In contrast, only one in 10,000 people taking statins will experience a "potentially dangerous" side-effect.

And they are cheap - a commonly prescribed statin, atorvastatin, taken daily costs about 2 a month per person, according to a study in the medical journal, the Lancet.

What did the research say?

New guidelines for England published in 2014 recommended statins be prescribed to anyone with a one-in-10 chance or higher of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years.

A team of scientists at Harvard looked at how many of the population in England should therefore be eligible for the drug.

The recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) significantly increased the number of people eligible for statins.

Previous advice from the body, which provides national guidelines on health and care, said that only those with a higher than one-in-five chance of developing heart disease should be given them.

How many people should be taking statins?

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