Statins have a major role to play in treating patients with heart failure, a new study suggests.

Researchers led by Dr Alan Go of the Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, report that the cholesterol-lowering drugs slashed deaths rates in heart failure patients by nearly a quarter.

The study of nearly 25,000 patients, which appears in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, also found significantly reduced rates of hospitalisation in the patients treated with statins.

Some earlier studies had indicated a higher risk of adverse events in persons with heart failure and low levels of LDL cholesterol, who received the drugs. As a result, it was unclear whether statin therapy had beneficial effects on clinical outcomes in patients with heart failure.

The latest study, conducted between January 1996 and December 2004, included 24,598 adults, of whom 51% received statin therapy. There was a median of 2.4 years of follow-up, during which 8,235 patients died.

Those taking statins were 24 per cent less likely to die during the study than patients not taking the drugs. Similarly, new statin use was associated with a 21% lower relative risk of hospitalisation for heart failure.

The lower rate of death and hospitalisation was seen in the presence or absence of known coronary heart disease.

“Statin use was independently associated with lower risks of death and hospitalisation among patients with or without coronary heart disease,” said Dr Go.

The JAMA paper is the latest in a series of studies that point to an expanding role for the cholesterol-lowering drugs.

In August, PharmaTimes reported evidence that statins may have a key role in treating heart attacks as well as preventing them.

Scientists in Beijing, China, had shown how the cholesterol-lowering drugs were to able to kick-start blood flow to cardiac muscle once a heart attack had occurred. This novel beneficial action was reported in the British Journal of Pharmacology.

The researchers said the new mode of action was independent of cholesterol-lowering and helped the heart to recover after an infarction.

In addition to their well-documented success in reducing danger blood lipids, heart specialists had suspected for several years that statins act in additional ways to protect the cardiovascular system.

Some research has suggested they benefit patients by increasing levels of NO in the blood and in this way decrease the inflammation that leads to arterial plaques.