Benefits of statins outweigh risks, says medicines regulator

MHRA says evidence from clinical trials shows statins can save lives by reducing risk of heart attacks and need for surgery
Statin pills
Statin pills. 

Millions of people prescribed cholesterol-reducing statins should continue to take them because the benefits outweigh the risks, Britain’s medicines regulator said on Friday. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)issued a safety update following a row over the frequency of side effects from the drugs. It said evidence from large clinical trials showed statins could save lives by reducing the risk of heart attacks, strokes and the need for heart surgery.

Its advice to health professionals said at least 450 deaths from heart attacks, stroke or vascular failure would be prevented for every 10,000 patients treated, if patients with a 20% risk or more of suffering such a cardiovascular event over a 10-year period took statins for at least five years.

The update came after the British Medical Journal(BMJ) commissioned an independent panel to report on how claims that 18-20% of people on statins suffered adverse events were published in the journal last year .

The verdict is expected by the end of July. The authors of two articles using the figure, John Abramson, from Harvard medical school, and Aseem Malhotra, a UK cardiologist, have withdrawn statements on the frequency of side effects following a charge from Prof Sir Rory Collins of Oxford University that the information was inaccurate and could endanger lives.

Collins, a leading advocate of statins, has argued that both articles should be withdrawn completely, saying they had caused uncertainty in patients. He suggested they could lead to far more harm than the scare over the MMR vaccine caused by the now discredited Andrew Wakefield.

Statins are currently being taken in Britain by about 7 million people who have at least a 20% risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommended in February that statins should be given to people at only 10% risk – a move that could dramatically increase the number of people taking them.

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