31 August 2011

New research on effects of statins

Statins, the drugs designed to prevent high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, are also effective in battling respiratory illness and other infections, research suggests.

Scientists at Imperial College London found that patients who took the drugs in a trial that ended in 2003 are faring better than those who took a placebo, even though most participants from both groups have been taking statins since.

The biggest difference between the groups eight years on is that patients who have taken statins for longer are less susceptible to lung infections such as pneumonia. The overall death rate since the trial began is 14 per cent lower in the group who were prescribed statins from the beginning.

Peter Sever, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology at the university, said that more work would be necessary to find out why 460 of the statins group had died compared with 520 in the placebo group. “This result is very unexpected,” he said.

“The benefits of statins for preventing heart attacks and strokes are well-established, but the most significant effects seem to be on deaths from other causes. It’s quite remarkable that there is still this difference between the two groups, eight years after the trial finished.

“Some studies have suggested that statins protect against death from infectious diseases such as pneumonia. More research is needed to explain how these drugs might have unforeseen actions that prevent deaths from other illnesses.”

The latest findings were presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris yesterday and simultaneously published in the European Heart Journal.

In the lipid-lowering arm of the trial, over 10,000 patients in the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia with high blood pressure were randomly allocated either atorvastatin or placebo between 1998 and 2000. In 2003, the trial was stopped early because the statin proved to be highly beneficial in preventing heart attacks and strokes.

Deaths from cardiovascular disease were also lower in the original statin group, but the difference was not statistically significant. There was no difference in deaths from cancer.

The initial results of the trial had a huge influence on guidelines recommending the use of statins for people at risk of heart disease.