According to a report from the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE), millions more people in the UK might benefit from using cholesterol-lowering statins.1
The draft NICE report recommends that people who have a 10% chance or more of developing cardiovascular disease should be offered the drugs. This would lead to a substantial increase of people being prescribed the drugs, as the current guideline is 20%. In particular, atorvastatin is recommended for both the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. It should be emphasised that this is only a preliminary recommendation and a stakeholder consultation is being carried out before the final report and recommendations are published later this year.
The risk of cardiovascular disease can be lowered by statins as they are effective in reducing both total and LDL cholesterol levels. An increased LDL level can lead to hardening of the arteries, which increases the chances of both a stroke and a heart attack.
It's estimated that seven million people currently take the drugs, costing roughly £285m a year. However, NICE reports that the drugs have become both more effective and less expensive in recent years, and using the drug earlier is cheaper than needing to have more intensive treatment at a later date.
It's important to remember that like all medicines, statins have risks as well as benefits, and there are likely to be several bodies arguing against these recommendations before the final guidelines are published. That means the final version of the guidelines may be modified when it comes out later this year.
1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Lipid modification: cardiovascular risk assessment and the modification of blood lipids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. February 2014