Nav: Home

Did controversy over statins influence their use in the UK?

June 28, 2016

A period of controversy over the risks and benefits of statins, covered widely in the UK media, was followed by a temporary increase in the number of people stopping their statin treatment, finds a study in The BMJ today.

The increase in stopping was seen among patients taking statins for existing heart disease (known as secondary prevention) as well as patients at high risk of developing disease in the next 10 years (known as primary prevention).

The researchers found no evidence that widespread media coverage was linked to changes in the proportion of newly eligible patients starting statins.

The results are observational, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. Nevertheless, the authors say they highlight "the potential for widely covered health stories in the lay media to impact on healthcare related behaviour."

But a linked editorial argues that uncertainty over the benefits and harms of statins still exists and journalism that exposes the public to ongoing controversies in science should be nurtured.

Statins are widely recommended for the prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD). In October 2013, two articles were published in The BMJ that questioned the value of extending the use of statins to healthy people at low risk of heart disease, and these were heavily criticised by some statins researchers, prompting widespread media debate about their potential risks and benefits.

Anthony Matthews at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and colleagues decided to measure how this period of intense public debate (from October 2013 to March 2014) affected the likelihood of patients starting and stopping statins for both primary and secondary prevention of CVD.

Using prescribing data from UK primary care records, they calculated the number of people aged 40 and over starting and stopping statins each month from January 2011 to March 2015.

Patients already taking statins were more likely to stop taking them for both primary and secondary prevention after the high media coverage period, particularly older patients and those with a longer continuous prescription.

The authors estimate that more than 200,000 patients across the UK may have stopped statin therapy in the six months after the media coverage - and that this could lead to over 2,000 extra cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, if continued over the next 10 years. But they stress that these calculations are based on several assumptions and should be interpreted with caution.

Study author Professor Liam Smeeth from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said: "Our findings suggest that widespread coverage of health stories in the mainstream media can have an important, real world impact on the behaviour of patients and doctors. This may have significant consequences for people's health.

"It's undoubtedly important that these debates are reflected in the media, who play a key role in communicating public health advice, but there is a concern that in the case of statins, widespread reporting of the debate may have given disproportionate weight to a minority view about possible side effects, denting public confidence in a drug which most scientists and health professionals believe to be a safe and effective option against heart disease for the vast majority of patients."

In a linked editorial Gary Schwitzer, Publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, says "we should not rush to judgement on the media's role in this episode."

He asks, what if news coverage did have an effect, by alerting people to the debate and uncertainty that still exist about the extent of potential benefits and harms of statin use? Is that such a bad thing?

He points out that the authors provide no patient data to support the belief that people stopped because of news reports, nor did they explore the possibility of reduced side effects, such as muscle pain and diabetes, as a result of stopping. "If news stories generate new questions from patients, or more complete conversations between patients and clinicians including better discussions on trade-offs, personal preferences, and values, that is an outcome to embrace," he concludes.

A second paper, also published today, estimates discontinuation rates of statins for over half a million UK patients and finds that, although more than 40% of statin users discontinue their therapy at some point, more than 70% of these restart. Because of the lack of data on reasons for discontinuations, however, the study cannot directly address why some patients discontinue statins.

Dr Fiona Godlee, Editor in chief, The BMJ said: "It seems to me absolutely right that there is public debate about the benefits and harms of treatments. Patients may now be better aware of several things. First that we have far less good information on the side effects of statins than on their benefits. Secondly, that for some people, especially those at lower risk of heart disease, the survival benefit from statins may not outweigh the negatives of taking a drug every day with all that this entails. And finally that the complete trial data on statins are not available for independent scrutiny. This should shock people. It continues to shock me."
-end-


BMJ

Related Heart Disease Articles:

Heart-healthy diets are naturally low in dietary cholesterol and can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
Eating a heart-healthy dietary pattern rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, vegetable oils and nuts, which is also limits salt, red and processed meats, refined-carbohydrates and added sugars, is relatively low in dietary cholesterol and supports healthy levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol.
Pacemakers can improve heart function in patients with chemotherapy-induced heart disease
Research has shown that treating chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy with commercially available cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) delivered through a surgically implanted defibrillator or pacemaker can significantly improve patient outcomes.
Arsenic in drinking water may change heart structure raising risk of heart disease
Drinking water that is contaminated with arsenic may lead to thickening of the heart's main pumping chamber in young adults, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
New health calculator can help predict heart disease risk, estimate heart age
A new online health calculator can help people determine their risk of heart disease, as well as their heart age, accounting for sociodemographic factors such as ethnicity, sense of belonging and education, as well as health status and lifestyle behaviors.
Wide variation in rate of death between VA hospitals for patients with heart disease, heart failure
Death rates for veterans with ischemic heart disease and chronic heart failure varied widely across the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system from 2010 to 2014, which could suggest differences in the quality of cardiovascular health care provided by VA medical centers.
Heart failure: The Alzheimer's disease of the heart?
Similar to how protein clumps build up in the brain in people with some neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, protein clumps appear to accumulate in the diseased hearts of mice and people with heart failure, according to a team led by Johns Hopkins University researchers.
Women once considered low risk for heart disease show evidence of previous heart attack scars
Women who complain about chest pain often are reassured by their doctors that there is no reason to worry because their angiograms show that the women don't have blockages in the major heart arteries, a primary cause of heart attacks in men.
Where you live could determine risk of heart attack, stroke or dying of heart disease
People living in parts of Ontario with better access to preventive health care had lower rates of cardiac events compared to residents of regions with less access, found a new study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Older adults with heart disease can become more independent and heart healthy with physical activity
Improving physical function among older adults with heart disease helps heart health and even the oldest have a better quality of life and greater independence.
Dietary factors associated with substantial proportion of deaths from heart disease, stroke, and disease
Nearly half of all deaths due to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes in the US in 2012 were associated with suboptimal consumption of certain dietary factors, according to a study appearing in the March 7 issue of JAMA.
More Heart Disease News and Heart Disease Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.