Statins – which side are you on?

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Statins are among the most prescribed medicines in the UK – and lately one of the most controversial after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) updated its guidelines earlier this year. 

Statins are frequently used as a preventative treatment and work to lower the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in your body can lead to fatty deposits in the arteries, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and stroke.

Under the new guidelines, anyone with a 10% risk of developing cardiovascular disease within the next decade should be offered statins. Previous guidelines recommended starting preventative treatment for anyone with a 20% risk.

Under the lower threshold up to 4.5 million people living in the UK could be eligible for statins, a move the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says could help prevent up to 28,000 heart attacks and 16,000 strokes each year.

The new guidelines received a mixed response; some welcomed the new guidelines while others were fiercely opposed.

Those for it say…

Those in favour of the new guidelines believe access to statins should be an option for those who want it.

At the moment, 1 in 3 deaths in the UK are caused by cardiovascular disease – 180,000 deaths each year. The NHS spends £8 billion in resources on cardiovascular disease, a number that could be reduced if more people who were at risk of developing it were taking statins.

By lowering the guideline of who can have access to statins, more people have the opportunity to make a proactive decision about their healthcare. Statins are inexpensive and it’s already proven that statins protect people who have had a heart attack or stroke from having a second.

The move to prescribe statins to people who have been identified as at a low risk of developing cardiovascular disease is based on extensive research and already common practice, the change in guidelines is simply a reflection of that.

Those against it say…

Critics of the guidelines point to side effects and the lack of published data showing any harm the drugs can do.

Many opponents argue that the benefits are not assured – those taking statins could still develop cardiovascular disease – and do not believe the potential benefits outweigh the risks. Statins can affect the liver in rare cases, and in about one in 10,000 cases taking statins can cause rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition which affects the kidneys.

Others take issue with the fact the guidelines effectively create a mass “medicalisation” of people who are not ill. There are many lifestyle changes that can also have a significant impact on reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, BMI and waist circumference and living an active lifestyle, and that rather than medicating patients who are not yet ill, there should me more emphasis on living the healthiest life possible.

Making up your own mind

Like any time there are conflicting opinions on any subject, it’s important to do your own research and make the decision that’s right for you. Your opinion about statins and whether or not you take them will reflect a complex range of factors including your medical history, cholesterol levels, current health and advice from your doctor.

If you’re interested in reading more on the subject, there are great resources online you can look to find more information.

To learn more about the updated guidelines, along with the full published guideline report, visit the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence website.

NICE also published a useful patient decision aid that may be useful to anyone who has already been identified as at risk and whose doctor has recommended taking statins.  To supplement this, NICE has also published a blog post that plainly explains some of the research and what it means for you.

To find information elsewhere, the British Heart Foundation has also published a guide, and similar resources can also be found on the NHS website and on the website for cholesterol charity Heart UK.

If you’re interested in reading more about the controversy surrounding the change in guidelines, the Guardian published an overview earlier this year, and continues to update its website with the latest news on statins.


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Silversurfers Features Editor

Hello there! I’m Rachel and I’m the Features Editor for Silversurfers. I work behind the scenes to bring interesting, informative and entertaining subject matter to the Silversurfers community. I hope you enjoy the features we have shared with you. Please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts with us, we love to hear from you!

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28th Apr 2015
Thanks for voting!
I came off statins because I found that I was going slightly dizzy. Nothing serious just a bit light headed Result I can still go light headed but not as often and it passes quicker
sun seeker
14th Dec 2014
Thanks for voting!
I believe statins can do a lot of harm in healthy people. I took 4. Was really ill.
8th Dec 2014
Thanks for voting!
Having had my first heart attack 3 weeks ago at aged 56 I had emergency angioplasty and stents fitted. I was put on Simvestaten and soluble asprin as part of my lifetime medication, along with betablockers. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure in my 20's and both my parents and grandparents all died from heart problems. I am not diabetic and my cholesterol pitched up at 3.1. In the previous10 months prior to this MI, I had lost 3 stone in weight and was eating healthier than I had ever done in my life previously. Maybe I've not been on them long enough to feel potential side effects or I may be the lucky one who doesn't suffer them but meantime if they keep me alive I'm game to try anything, my faith in modern medicine has yet to be shaken. I read your posts with interest and now feel I will be aware and informed for any possible future developments.
6th Dec 2014
Thanks for voting!
I was prescribed 90mg of Lipitor after an acute cardiac event. I then started to get severe back pain and was unable to walk for more than a few hundred yards or stand for any length of time. I did'nt associate this with the drug until I was in hospital and met a guy who had the same problem and had done some research and had stopped taking it. Within 2 months his pain started to subside and was at that time pain free. I stopped taking it and am now pain free and can walk 6 miles without any problem. I also suffered cramps at night and nightmares which can be other side effects. I control my cholesterol through a low carb diet. All the patient studies are done by the drug companies and are cofidential. They are making billons out this mass prescription!
5th Dec 2014
Thanks for voting!
I have been on Statins for over 2 years now and do not know whether they are doing me any good or not. I tried to lower my high 'bad' cholesterol by doing it organically for 3 months, cut out all 'crap' foods, bit more exercise, etc... however my GP stated this ended up affecting my 'good' cholesterol as well, so statins everyday from then on unfortunately.

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