A group of health experts are recommending a new policy that would likely increase the number of middle-aged and older Americans taking cholesterol-fighting drugs known as statins, despite concerns that they could increase the risk of diabetes and other side effects.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a recommendation statement this week, which indicates that any Americans over the age of 40 with any risks of heart disease should likely be placed on a class of medications known as statins, which includes Lipitor and Crestor. The statement was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Statins generate combined sales of more than $14.5 billion per year, and are increasingly used to block the body’s creation of cholesterol, which is a key contributor to coronary artery disease. Although the medications are widely used, a number of studies have linked statins to an increased risk of potentially serious injuries, including muscle damage, kidney problems, and diabetes.
However, the task force looked at evidence of benefits and risks and recommended that adults age 40 to 75 with one or more factors that increase their risk of heart disease, such as diabetes, hypertension or smoking, should begin low to moderate dose statins, even if they have no history of actual heart disease. The task force suggested that doctors suggest statin treatment to patients if they calculate that the patient has a 7.5% to 10% risk of a heart disease-related event in the next 10 years.
The USPSTF noted that there was not enough evidence to suggest whether the benefits outweighed the risks when considering patients over the age of 75. The task force also noted that it did not take costs into consideration.
“The USPSTF recognizes that clinical decisions involve more considerations than evidence alone,” the statement notes. “Clinicians should understand the evidence but individualize decision making to the specific patient or situation. Similarly, the USPSTF notes that policy and coverage decisions involve considerations in addition to the evidence of clinical benefits and harms.”
Many critics have raised concerns that statins are being pushed on the populace too heavily, in what is often referred to as the “statinization” of America. Those concerns came after guidelines issued by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, who indicated that statins are the only drugs doctors should prescribe to lower cholesterol and called for doctors to toss out
Those concerns have been highlighted by evidence in recent years that has linked the use of statins with an increased risk of diabetes,which is a serious health condition associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other complications.
Researchers have warned that enzymes affected by statins are also tied to blood sugar, and some have found a dose-specific response between Lipitor and similar drugs and an increased risk of diabetes, raising worries that the very drugs doctors may be suggesting to avoid heart disease could actually end up causing it and other health problems in some patients.