Statins are the most prescribed drugs in the world, because of the overwhelming evidence of their efficacy in reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke in clinical trials. However, these benefits may not translate into clinical practice because of patients’ lack of knowledge about the importance of controlling their cholesterol.

According to the global From the Heart survey, reported for the first time yesterday in Paris, three-quarters of people diagnosed with high cholesterol are unaware that their condition could lead to a heart attack, one-third are unconcerned about having high cholesterol, and half claim that they have not been told, or have forgotten, their cholesterol level.

Cholesterol is the major driver of cardiovascular risk, and the lower the level of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), the lower the chance of heart attack or stroke. Patients are, however, less likely to comply with long-term treatment if they are unaware of their risk, and so From the Heart has important implications for doctors who prescribe statins and for Governments who pay for them.

Conducted in 2004, From the Heart was a telephone survey of 1,547 patients from Europe, Latin America and Asia. The survey was sponsored by AstraZeneca, who launched the latest statin, Crestor (rosuvastatin), in 2003. Crestor has gained market share on the back of studies such as STELLA, which showed that the drug was more effective than other statins, including Pfizer’s Lipitor (atorvastatin), in achieving cholesterol guideline targets.