People older than age 65 who are at risk for heart disease but have no known heart problems may reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke by taking cholesterol-lowering statins. However, the medication may not prevent them from dying from cardiovascular disease or other causes in the short term, a new study suggests.
The new study, conducted by researchers at Federico II University in Naples, Italy, involved data from eight previously published trials involving a total of almost 25,000 patients. All were at risk for heart disease but had not had a previous heart attack or stroke.
The meta-analysis compared people using statins such as the commonly prescribed Lipitor, with patients taking a placebo. The patients were followed for an average of three and a half years. Researchers found that statins reduced the risk of heart attack by roughly 29 percent, and reduced the risk of stroke by about 24 percent. However, the drugs did not prevent death from heart disease or any other cause.
The study brings into question whether all patients age 65 and older would benefit by taking a statin medication. But the drugs do carry side effects that may affect senior citizens more than younger users.
For example, most people are aware that the drugs can cause muscle injury. More recent studies have also linked the drugs to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, in particular in postmenopausal women who had a body mass index of 25 or less.