Healthy 75-year-olds who stop taking statins have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, a study published this week in the European Heart Journal has found.
The nation-wide French study is the first to evaluate the impact of discontinuing statins taken for primary prevention in older people, according to the European Society of Cardiology.
The researchers studied 120,173 people in France aged 75 between 2012 and 2014 who had been taking statins continuously for two years and found those who stopped taking their statins had a 33% increased risk of being admitted to hospital with heart or blood vessel problems during an average follow-up period of 2.4 years.
Statins are known to reduce the risk of further problems in patients of any age who have already suffered heart problems or stroke, but until now it has not been clear how effective their use is in preventing such events occurring in healthy people aged 75 and over with no previous history of cardiovascular disease, the European Society of Cardiology said in a media release.
Dr Philippe Giral, an endocrinologist specialist in prevention of cardiovascular disease at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital (part of Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris), Paris, France, who led the research said that although further randomised studies are needed before guidelines can be updated, he would advise elderly people who are taking statins to prevent cardiovascular disease to continue taking them.
“To patients, we would say that if you regularly take statins for high cholesterol, we would recommend you don’t stop the treatment when you are 75. To doctors, we would recommend not stopping statin treatment given for primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases in your patients aged 75,” Dr Giral said.
“We estimated that an extra 2.5 cardiovascular events per 100 people would occur within four years among those who discontinued their statins at the age of 75 years compared to those who continued taking their statins.”
The researchers stress that this is an observational, retrospective, non-randomised study and therefore cannot show that discontinuing statins can cause a heart attack or stroke, only that it is associated with it.
Limitations of the study include the fact that statin use was defined by prescriptions dispensed, although the researchers point out that as the patients regularly had prescriptions dispensed to them, they would be unlikely not to take the medication; the researchers did not have information on patients’ socio-economic status, their lifestyles, cholesterol levels at the start of the period being studied, tobacco use, obesity and frailty; and they did not have precise information on the reasons why people stopped taking statins.
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Giral P, Neumann A, Weill A, Coste J. Cardiovascular effect of discontinuing statins for primary prevention at the age of 75 years: a nationwide population-based cohort study in France. Eur Heart J. ehz458. DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehz458