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A pill a day could keep heart attack at bay

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A simple daily dose of cholesterol-lowering medication could protect tens of thousands of men from heart attacks and strokes and save governments millions of dollars in health expenses, according to British research.

In a result that lends support to calls for expanded use of statins, a West Scotland study has found that taking the cholesterol-lowering medication pravastatin (40 milligrams) each day for five years cuts the risk of “cardiovascular events” over a 15-year period, adding to quality of life, reducing hospitalisation rates and delivering substantial health savings.

The findings were based on the results of a randomised trial involving 6595 men aged between 45 and 54 years who had hypercholesterolaemia but without a history of myocardial infarction.

It found that for every 1000 who took a daily 40 milligram dose of pravastatin for five years, there were 163 fewer hospital admissions over 15 years due to cardiovascular problems including myocardial infarction, stroke, heart failure, coronary revascularisation and angiography.

The researchers said that, in all, the treatment prevented 1836 days of hospitalisation over 15 years for every 1000 men taking the statin, at a net saving to the health system (taking into account the cost of the medicine) of $1.3 million.

The study’s authors said there was no evidence of any increase in non-cardiovascular admissions or associated costs among those taking pravastatin.

The significance of the findings has been thrown into stark relief by recent debates about the effectiveness of statins as a preventive treatment.

“Our analyses suggest that statins are even more cost-effective in primary prevention than had previously been suspected,” the authors said. “These effects, seen across a range of underlying cardiovascular risks, suggest that treatment of even lower-risk individuals would still be economically efficient and deliver significant public health benefits. Our results add to and support a recent call for expanded use of statins.”

But they added the proviso that there was potentially an increased risk of developing diabetes among patients using statins for more than five years.

The study was published in the European Heart Journal.

Adrian Rollins