Two-thirds of Irish people taking statins do so for prevention

‘BMJ’ study finds many taking statins do so as preventative measure against heart attack

Research questions whether the widespread use of statins in some low-risk people represents the best use of scarce resources.

Research questions whether the widespread use of statins in some low-risk people represents the best use of scarce resources.

 

Nearly two-thirds of people who are taking medication to reduce the risk of them getting a heart attack have no history of heart disease, a new Irish study has found.

The authors of the researchhave questioned whether this widespread use of statins in some low-risk people represents the best use of scarce resources.

The study found nearly two-thirds of people were taking statins, which are cholesterol-lowering medication, as a preventative measure.

The national study of 5,618 people aged over 50 between 2009 and 2011 found about one-third of Irish adults of this age group were taking statins. Those surveyed were part of The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda).

Nearly three-quarters of women who were taking statins did not have a medical history of cardiovascular disease, and were taking the medication for primarily preventive reasons. The number of men taking statins for “primary prevention” was lower, at 57 per cent.

Statins can be prescribed for patients who are considered at risk of heart disease, due to factors such as high cholesterol. They are also prescribed for patients who have a cardiovascular condition, or other conditions such as diabetes.

Paula Byrne, a PhD scholar at NUI Galway and the lead author of the study, said the result of the research “leads us to question whether the widespread use of statins in some low-risk people represents the best use of scarce resources”. The study was published in BMJ Open.

Value for money

Co-author Dr John Cullinan from NUI Galway said the study was significant due to the relatively large spend on statins in the Irish health service.

“From an economic perspective, as increasing proportions of the older population are using statins, there are concerns relating to whether or not this represents value for money in the health sector,” he said.

In 2016, statins ranked fifth in terms of highest expenditure under the medical card scheme in Ireland and the second most prescribed type of medicine on the scheme.

Royal College of Surgeons Prof Susan Smith, another co-author of the study, said it was “significant” that a large number of Irish people taking statins used the medication primarily for prevention.

Prof Smith added the high proportion of women in Ireland taking the medication as a preventive measure was also significant, “given the ongoing debate on the appropriateness of statin use in primary prevention”.

The research found there was no major distinction in the likelihood of Irish people taking statins when it came to income, social class, gender or private health insurance cover. The likelihood of people using the medication increased with age.

The prevalence of the medication has increase dramatically in Ireland and other western countries over the last 30 years, linked in part to increases in ageing populations.