and Medicine for Seniors
Seniors 75 and older may
find statins guard against heart attack, stroke
…but should they be given to senior citizens not
already taking them to protect against cardiovascular events
21, 2015 – Statins could be a cost-effective tool for preventing heart
attacks and other cardiovascular incidents in adults over age 75, but
the benefits would need to be weighed against potential side effects, a
study being published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine has
“Statins look promising as an intervention for this
population, but there are concerns about potential physical or cognitive
side effects,” said the study’s lead author,
Michelle Odden, an assistant professor of epidemiology in OSU's
College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
“It’s not all good or all bad; we’re in a gray
area,” said Odden, who is affiliated with OSU’s
Center for Healthy Aging Research.
“That’s where patient preference becomes important.
People who are concerned about the side effects should have a
conversation with their health care provider.”
Researchers examined whether statins should be
routinely given to older adults who are not already taking them as
prevention against heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular events
that can affect quality of life and drive up health care costs.
They used computer modeling to estimate the
cost-effectiveness, including risks and benefits, of statin use among
older adults. The findings indicated that statin use can help prevent
cardiovascular incidents, but if that use increased the risk of physical
or cognitive side effects by roughly 10 to 30 percent, any benefit from
statins would be offset.
“We don’t know what the true risk is,” Odden said.
“But we know statin use is very sensitive to these other risks in older
Statins are a class of drugs used to lower
cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease caused by high
cholesterol. Many types of statins are available in generic form, which
keeps drug costs low. Use of such drugs to prevent a significant cardiac
event could reduce overall health care costs and improve the quality of
life of older adults, Odden said.
More than 40 percent of adults over age 75 already
are taking statins. However, medical guidelines for statin use are only
for people who start taking statins when they are younger, up to age 75.
The drugs are typically prescribed to people who have a history of
cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, diabetes or a high probability
of a cardiovascular event within 10 years.
As people live longer and healthier lives,
cardiovascular health prevention efforts may need to be adjusted to
reflect differences that come with age. Statins seem like a promising
option to prevent cardiovascular incidents among older adults, but they
may not be beneficial if they introduce side effects such as muscle
weakness and cognitive impairment, which are suggested to occur with
statin use, Odden said.
“Physical and cognitive independence are two things
that are very important to older adults,” she said. “Both conditions are
so impactful that a small increase in risk may not be worth the gains in
Additional research, including clinical trials
using older adults, would be needed to better understand the benefits
and risks of statin use in this population, Odden said.
Co-authors of the study are Mark J. Pletcher,
Pamela G. Coxson, David Guzman, David Heller, and Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo
of the University of California, San Francisco; Lee Goldman of Columbia
University; and Divya Thekkethala of OSU. The research was supported by
a grant from the American Heart Association Western States Affiliate and
the National Institutes of Health.
About the OSU College of
Public Health and Human Sciences: Located in Corvallis,
OSU is the only accredited college of public health in Oregon, the
college creates connections in teaching, research and community outreach
while advancing knowledge, policies and practices that improve
population health in communities across the state and beyond.