Stopping statins after the age of 75 increases the risk of a heart attack by almost half, research has suggested.
Whilst statins are known to be effective for lowering cholesterol and managing heart disease in patients who have already suffered from strokes or heart attacks, a nationwide study in France was the first to assess the effectiveness of the medication in elderly people.
The research, published in the European Heart Journal, looked at 120,000 pensioners over 75 who had been taking statins regularly.
The study showed that those who stopped taking the drugs were 46% more likely to suffer a coronary event, such as a heart attack, and 26% more likely to have a stroke.
Dr Philippe Giral of Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital who led the research advised that older people who are taking statins to prevent heart disease continue taking them.
"If you are regularly taking 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."
Those who discontinued statins also 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. During this time 14.3% (over 17,200 people) stopped taking statins for at least three consecutive months, and 4.5% (5,400 people) were admitted to hospital for a cardiovascular problem.
The study had limitations though. It only shows that discontinuing statins is associated with heart attacks and strokes, rather than causing them. The results also did not consider lifestyle factors for the patients, such as hospital admissions, cholesterol levels and tobacco use.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "This study, although observational, adds to a growing body of evidence showing that statins reduce heart attacks and strokes in older people, as they do in younger people, and are safe. Age should not be a barrier to prescribing these potentially life-saving drugs to those people who are likely to benefit."