When drug company PR extols the virtues of statin drugs, statistics will invariably be presented which make clear their supposed power to reduce the risk of, say, heart disease or stroke. Typically, this will be in the form of what is known as ‘relative risk’ reduction. For example, it is often said that statins reduce the risk of heart attack by about a third. Put this way, statins do sound like they have considerable power to ward off disease and perhaps even death. Not only are many of members of the public convinced by these sorts of statistics, but most doctors are too. Doctors will often bandy around these statistics as justification for statin prescriptions that they write for healthy individuals who have turned up a ‘raised’ cholesterol on testing.
The risk:benefit ratio is weighted a little more heavily in favour of benefit when we look at people with a previous history of heart attack or stroke, but even here, many individuals need to be treated for one to gain benefit. Plus, it should be borne in mind that the great majority of people on statins are ‘healthy’ and have no previous history of cardiovascular disease. In short, this review tells us that, for the most part, statin treatment is a futile endeavour. While many doctors have been suckered in by drug company hype and encouragement from their governing bodies, at least some have had the presence of mind to take a long, hard, objective look at the data, and found statins to be wanting.
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