Drug to Lower Cholesterol Useful in Easing Cough

Statins found useful in curbing chronic cough in patients with lung disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It's well known that statin medications are effective for reducing high cholesterol. A new study suggests that these medications may also have other benefits in the lungs.

About one in 1,000 people have bronchiectasis, British researchers report, although the exact incidence is unknown. This inflammatory lung condition causes people to cough, have excessive phlegm, and experience multiple chest infections. Its cause is not known, but it is linked to having experienced a lung infection as a child, such as pneumonia or whooping cough.

New research has found that those with bronchiectasis who take atorvastatin, a statin drug (a cholesterol-lowering medication) may find some relief, especially regarding their cough.

"Talk to your doctor about your chronic cough."

British researchers led by Dr. Pallavi Mandal of the University of Edinburgh recruited adults, aged 18 to 79, for their trial that started in June of 2011. These patients had to have clinically significant bronchiectasis, cough and sputum when otherwise clinically stable, two or more chest infections in a year and a chest CT scan (a series of x-rays taken from different angles). The CT scan had to show that branches of the windpipe had widened due to the disease.

The investigators divided the 60 participants into two groups. One group of 30 people received the statin drug atorvastatin 80mg once a day for six months, and the second group of 30 people received a placebo (a similar pill that had no medication). Neither patients nor investigators knew who received the statin drug.

The effectiveness of the medication was gaged with a Leicester Cough Questionnaire which asked a variety of questions about frequency and severity of symptoms.

After three months it was evident that those taking the statin drug were significantly improving. They were walking further than the placebo group and had fewer flare-ups, less coughing and phlegm.

At the end of six months, six patients in the statin group had dropped out due to side effects. The side effects were mainly headache and diarrhea. In the placebo group only one patient dropped out due to personal reasons.

All the patients remaining in the statin group reported improvement in their symptoms compared with only five patients in the placebo group.

The authors suggest that more studies be conducted to support their findings.

This study appeared in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

In an accompanying editorial written by Dr. Charles Feldman of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, he wrote that one issue with this study is that more patients in the statin group had never smoked compared with people in the placebo group.

Dr. Feldman also wondered if other statins would prove equally useful, or if a lower dose might also work. However, all in all, he thought the study suggested that this statin may be a useful tool for patients with bronchiectasis who are often put on antibiotics and eventually build up antibiotic resistance to many of these drugs.

“Although a better understanding of the likely role of statins in patients with bronchiectasis awaits larger multicentre studies, these findings provide a glimmer of hope that we might soon have an effective anti-inflammatory treatment for patients with bronchiectasis,” he concluded.

The authors of the study and editorial report no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
March 28, 2014
Last Updated:
March 29, 2014