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Statins ‘may only postpone death by three or four days’

Treatment with statins only improves people’s overall survival very slightly, postponing death by around three or four days, a new analysis of trials evidence has found.

The authors of the analysis – published in BMJ Open – said GPs should not push use of statins in people troubled by their side effects or in those with limited life expectancy.

The Danish researchers looked at 11 randomised controlled trials of statins that reported all-cause survival curves, with follow-up lasting between two and six years.

They found statins postponed death by a median of 3.2 days in the six studies where they were being tested for primary prevention, and a median of 4.1 days in five studies of their use for secondary prevention.

The researchers wrote: ’Statin treatment results in a surprisingly small average gain in overall survival within the trials’ running time.’

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They said that as a result, when treating people with statin intolerance or in whom treatment is associated with unpleasant side effects, GPs ‘should not be too insistent on the patient continuing them’.

Meanwhile, ‘for patients whose life expectancy is short, the benefit of statin therapy in terms of survival gain may be quite limited’, they wrote.

The team added that explaining to people how much statin treatment is likely to postpone death, rather than using terms like numbers needed to treat, may help people weigh up the benefits and risks of treatment more easily.

BMJ Open 2015; available online 24 September




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