Cochrane Summaries

Trusted evidence. Informed decisions. Better health.
Language:
English

Statins for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease

Taylor F, Huffman MD, Macedo A, Moore THM, Burke M, Davey Smith G, Ward K, Ebrahim S
Published Online: 
20 January 2014

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), which comprises heart attacks (myocardial infarction), angina and strokes, is ranked as the number one cause of mortality and is a major cause of morbidity world wide. High blood cholesterol is linked to CVD events and is an important risk factor. Reducing high blood cholesterol, is thus an important way to reduce the chances of suffering a CVD event. Statins - cholesterol lowering drugs - (e.g. simvastatin, pravastatin, atorvastatin) are the first-choice treatments. Since the early statin randomised controlled trials were reported in the 1990s, several reviews of the effects of statins have been published highlighting their benefits particularly in people with a past history of CVD. Benefits include a reduction in CVD events. Statins have also been shown to reduce the risk of a first event in otherwise healthy individuals at high risk of CVD (primary prevention) but information on possible hazards has not been reported fully. The aim of this updated systematic review is to assess the effects, both in terms of benefits and harms of statins, for the primary prevention of CVD. We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE and EMBASE until 2011. We found 18 randomised controlled trials with 19 trial arms (56,934 patients) dating from 1994 to 2008. All were randomised control trials comparing statins with usual care or placebo. The mean age of the participants was 57 years (range 28 - 97 years), 60.3% were men, and of the eight trials that reported on ethnicity, 85.9 % were Caucasian. Duration of treatment was a minimum one year and with follow-up of a minimum of six months. All-cause mortality and fatal and non-fatal CVD events were reduced with the use of statins as was the need for revascularisation (the restoration of an adequate blood supply to the heart) by means of surgery (coronary artery bypass graft ) or by angioplasty (PTCA). Of 1000 people treated with a statin for five years, 18 would avoid a major CVD event which compares well with other treatments used for preventing cardiovascular disease. Taking statins did not increase the risk of serious adverse effects such as cancer. Statins are likely to be cost-effective in primary prevention.