Weighing the Benefits of Statins

Statin risks for elderly patients without heart disease could outweigh benefits

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Cholesterol medication can be lifesaving for older patients, but that doesn't mean taking it is risk-free.

A new study found that while statins may prevent heart attacks and other heart disease deaths, they can also result in adverse effects for elderly patients.

The authors of this study used data from past research to estimate the effects of prescribing statins to all people aged 75 or older who don’t have heart disease.

They found that statin use would prevent thousands of deaths from heart attacks and heart disease. However, it would also increase rates of cognitive impairment, muscle damage and falls.

In an editorial about this study, Michael W. Rich, MD, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, wrote that “even very modest adverse effects attributable to statins tip the balance in the direction of harm.”

Lee Goldman, MD, of Columbia University in New York, led this study.

Statins lower cholesterol by preventing the patient’s body from making cholesterol. Some guidelines advise against statin use for elderly people due to side effects like tiredness, cognitive impairment and falls.

These side effects can cause disabilities and prevent older adults from carrying out daily tasks.

Dr. Goldman and team used data to predict the results of prescribing statins for all adults ages 75 to 94 years old.

They found that 8 million additional adults would be receiving the drugs. The new prescriptions would prevent around 105,000 heart attacks and 68,000 deaths caused by heart disease.

However, there would also be an increase in side effects specific to older adults that could overwhelm the potential benefits of using statins, Dr. Goldman and team said.

In his editorial, Dr. Rich argued that “the findings strongly support the view that when it comes to prescribing statins for primary prevention in older adults, less is more.”

The study and editorial were published April 20 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The American Heart Association Western States Affiliate, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases funded this research. Dr. Goldman received grant support from the federal government.

Review Date: 
April 20, 2015
Last Updated:
April 28, 2015