UK & World News
Statins 'Should Be Offered To Millions More'
Thousands of deaths, heart attacks and strokes could be prevented if millions more people are prescribed cholesterol-lowering statin drugs under new guidelines.
In draft guidance to the NHS, Britain's healthcare watchdog recommended the threshold for patients who qualify for statins should be halved.
Currently patients must display a 20% risk of developing cardiovascular disease within ten years in order to be offered the cholesterol-reducing medication.
But the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has advised that figure should be cut to include anyone with a 10% chance of developing the disease.
This could result in an estimated five million more people in the UK taking the drugs.
While the introduction of the guidelines is still subject to consultation, experts have already voiced their support.
According to a 2012 Oxford University study, published in the Lancet medical journal, lowering the threshold to include lower-risk patients could save thousands of lives.
Professor Colin Baigent, from the research team, estimated that based on that figure up to 2,000 lives could be saved and 10,000 heart attacks or strokes prevented annually.
Professor Rory Collins added: "The evidence is very strong that the treatment is cost-effective at these lower levels."
He noted that while Nice's recommendation would "reduce the burden on the health service", individuals will be able to choose whether to accept prescriptions based on their own assessment of the benefits.
"People say you are medicalising the population by recommending statin use at these lower levels," he said.
"That's complete nonsense. This remains a choice for the patient, it's not mandatory."
Around seven million people in the UK are currently on statins, according to Nice. That costs an estimated £450m every year.
One possible reason for the updated guidelines stems from a considerable drop in the price of the medication in recent years.
The cost has now been cut to just a few pence per pill.
Statins work by reducing the production of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - or "bad cholesterol" - inside the liver.
High rates of LDL can cause a hardening and narrowing of the arteries which can lead to heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
While considered extremely effective, experts have made clear that a change in lifestyle can also reduce LDL levels.
High-risk patients are advised to eat a healthy diet, low in saturated fats, and increase their intake of omega 3 fatty acids.
Cutting down on alcohol, smoking and doing more exercise can further reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
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