Giving statin drugs to all men over 50 would be the most effective way
to slash rates of coronary disease and stroke in the UK, according to a
leading Government health adviser.
Professor Roger Boyle, the national director for heart disease, said such mass medication, which would also include women over 65, would be an effective way to save lives, cash and National Health Service time.
Statins, which can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by a third, are taken by three million people in England preventing 10,000 deaths a year at an annual cost of £550 million. And the number of users is set to double to six million under more inclusive treatment guidelines published last month by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
However, Dr Boyle told the meeting of heart experts at the Science
Media Centre in London: “Cardiovascular disease is still the main cause
of death, more than for all cancers combined.” He argued there would be
a bigger impact in terms of people's health if society went for the
blanket approach with cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Prof Boyle cited low over-the-counter statins as further evidence for the need to increase uptake of the drugs. But he conceded there would be problems with such a strategy. "I don't think the general public is ready for the blanket approach where you get to 50 and take a pill,” he said. “I think we also are conscious of the accusation of being a nanny state and imposing things on people, so choice remains important."
Professor Peter Weissberg, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, gave a cautious response to the idea of blanket medication
with statins. “I don’t think it is the right approach at this stage,” he said. “It may be right in 10-15 years when we know more about statins.”
He said statins had the lowest level of side effects of any drug he had yet seen, but he added there was always a downside. Known side effects of statins include muscle ache, fatigue and stiff joints. In 2003, a team of scientists led by Professor Nick Wald from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London, claimed that a "polypill" containing aspirin, a statin, blood pressure lowering drugs and folic acid could be given to everyone over 55 to cut their risk of having a heart attack or a stroke by 80%.