GPs in the UK are worried that they could be forced to prescribe statins to most of their older patients after new research suggested they would benefit from taking the controversial cholesterol-lowering drugs.
According to the study published in the the British Journal of General Practice, almost all men over 60 and women over 75 should be taking the drugs.
Previous studies have reported limited or zero evidence that statins help prevent cardiovascular disease in older people and some experts have said thatIn fact recent research warns that people taking the drugs are more likely to suffer from hardening of the arteries, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease.
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The Independent reports:
The sweeping findings could suggest that GPs will be asked to prescribe the drugs to the majority of their patients, leading to huge strain on doctors.
But professional groups have warned that the relationship between a patient and their doctor remains the most important, and that the physician will still make the ultimate decision on what their patients should be prescribed, despite the findings of the study.
The research looked to investigate the effects of guidance that was set by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) in 2014. That controversial ruling allowed many more people to receive statin therapy on the NHS, since it suggested that anyone with cardiovascular disease should be given the drug, and anyone with a more than 10 per cent chance of developing it in the next 10 years should take it too.
The latest study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, examined the algorithm endorsed by Nice for the assessment of CVD risk and compared it to data from the 2011 Health Survey for England to estimate the number of people who are eligible for statin therapy under the guidance.
“Under the guidelines, 11.8 million (37 per cent) adults in England aged 30-84 years, including almost all males over 60 years and all females over 75 years, would be eligible for statin therapy,” the authors wrote.
Of these, 9.8 million would be offered the medication as a preventative measure, the researchers discovered.
They found most adults who were eligible or treated for primary prevention were in older age groups.
Just 4 per cent of men and 2 per cent of women aged 30 to 44 were deemed to be eligible to be offered the medication, but this figure increased with age.
Among men, 33 per cent of those aged 45 to 59 would be eligible according to the risk assessment tool.
This increased to 95 per cent of men aged 60 to 74 years and 100 per cent of men aged 75 to 84.
One in 10 women aged 45 to 59 would be eligible, increasing to 66 per cent of women aged 60 to 74 and 100 per cent of women aged 75 to 84.
Among the 9.8 million deemed to be at risk of CVD, the researchers said 6.3 million were eligible for treatment but not currently on statins.
Among this group there will be a projected 1.16 million cardiovascular events – including heart attacks and strokes – over the next decade, they estimated.
The authors calculated that if all these people were taking statins 290,000 of these events could be prevented.