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Don't extend the use of statins

13th June 2014

Experts have urged the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and health ministers to reconsider extending the use of statins.

medical professionalsThe proposed extension is recommending the drug to five million people, in addition to the seven million already using them.

NICE published a draft publication in February calling for the use of statins to be extended - to "save lives". It is expected to publish final guidance for doctors before August.

About the drug

Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower rates of cholesterol in the blood by slowing its production in the liver. Too much cholesterol can lead to narrowing and hardening of the arteries as well as further health problems.

It is to be noted that eating a healthy diet, regular exercise and staying slim will also help to lower cholesterol.

Doctors currently use a risk calculator to work out a person's chance of having a stroke or heart attack to decide if they require statins. The calculation factors include age, weight and whether or not someone smokes.

NICE's point of view

Doctor's guidelines state that statin tablets are meant to be given to the seven million people who have a 20% chance of developing cardiovascular disease over 10 years (based on their age, sex, whether they smoke and their BMI).

The new draft suggested that those with a 10% risk also be included in the treatment.

Like all medicines, statins have potential side-effects. They have been linked to muscle, liver and kidney problems, but just how common these are is still up for debate.

The critics believe...

Plans to extend the use of statin drugs should be stopped.

The experts said the draft advice was overly reliant on industry-sponsored trials, which "grossly underestimate adverse effects".

It added: "The benefits in a low-risk population do not justify putting approximately five million more people on drugs", if they have to take it for the rest of their lives.

Prof Simon Capewell, an expert in clinical epidemiology at Liverpool University is one of the signatories. He said: "The recent statin recommendations are deeply worrying, effectively condemning all middle-aged adults to lifelong medications of questionable value.

"They steal huge funds from a cash-strapped NHS and they steal attention from the major responsibilities that government and food industry have to promote healthier life choices for ourselves and our children."

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