NEW YORK - More than US$1 million worth of heart attacks, strokes and hospitalizations for other reasons were avoided by 1,000 Scotsmen aged in their 40s through 60s who had taken cholesterol-lowering statins for five years, according to a new study.
"Treating middle aged men, who do not have heart disease, with cheap off-patent statins for 5 years, not only prevents heart attacks and deaths due to heart disease, but substantially reduces days spent in hospital, for coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure," said the report's senior author Ian Ford, a biostatistician at the University of Glasgow.
The so-called statin drugs, including torvastatin (Lipitor), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol) and simvastatin (Zocor), are usually prescribed to patients with heart disease or other known risk factors for heart attack, Ford said. They act primarily by lowering low-density lipoproteins, or "bad" cholesterol.
Because cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death and a major cause of disability in the US and elsewhere, however, experts have debated whether giving statins preventively to larger swathes of the population could save lives and cut healthcare costs.
To test how that idea would affect healthcare usage and costs in Scotland, Ford and his colleagues analysed data from a trial that included more than 6,000 middle-aged Scotsmen with high cholesterol, but who had never had a heart attack.
The participants, who were all between 45 and 54 years old at the outset, were randomly divided into one group that received 40 milligrams of pravastatin daily for five years and another group that got a placebo for the same period. The researchers then followed the men through their health records for another ten years.
In the statin group, 265 men had heart attacks over the 15-year study period, compared to 369 in the placebo group.