The benefits of the cholesterol-reducing drug statins are underestimated and the harms exaggerated, a major review suggests.
Published in the Lancet and backed by a number of major health organisations, it says statins lower heart attack and stroke risk.
The review also suggests side effects such as muscle pain do occur, although in relatively few people.
But critics say healthy people are unnecessarily taking medication.
Statins reduce the build-up of fatty plaques that lead to blockages in blood vessels. According to the report authors:
- About six million people are currently taking statins in the UK
- Of those, two million are on them because they have already had a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event
- The remaining four million take statins because of risk factors such as age, blood pressure or diabetes
- Up to two million more should possibly take statins
The Lancet review, led by Prof Rory Collins from the Clinical Trial Service Unit at the University of Oxford, looked at the available evidence for the effects of taking an average 40mg daily dose of statins in 10,000 patients over five years.
It suggested cholesterol levels would be lowered enough to prevent 1,000 “major cardiovascular events” such as heart attacks, strokes and coronary artery bypasses in people who had existing vascular disease – and 500 in people who were at risk due to age or other illnesses such as high blood pressure or diabetes.