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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 00:08 GMT
Patients denied heart drugs
Man suffering heart attack
Using statins could prevent heart attacks
Thousands of heart attacks and strokes could be avoided each year if cholesterol-lowering drugs were given to high-risk patients.

Research from the Royal Free and University College Medical School found only 3% of those at high risk of developing heart problems were taking the drugs.

At least one-quarter of English adults have "higher than ideal" cholesterol levels, meaning they are at high risk of suffering heart disease.

Researchers said extending the use of the drugs could prevent up to 7,000 heart attacks and 2,500 strokes a year.

Low treatment rates

Data from 13,500 adults in England showed less than one-third of patients with a history of heart problems received the treatment. Only 2% of all those questioned were taking the lipid-lowering drugs.

Researchers said: "Given the huge beneficial effects of statins on cardiovascular events... it is hard to explain why the observed rates of treatment were so low".

They added that the low rate of treatment for people who had already had heart problems was 'worrisome'.


It is hard to explain why the observed rates of treatment were so low

Statins use report

Lipids are substances found in the body, including Cholesterol. Cutting lipid levels reduces cholesterol and therefore the risk of coronary heart disease.

The cost of statins means their use is currently restricted to those at highest risk, or those who have a history of coronary heart disease.

High numbers of deaths

The UK has one of the highest death rates from coronary heart disease in the world - mainly because it scores highly on the risk factors for CHD.

Smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes can mean people are more at risk of heart disease.

Researchers said they found it hard to explain why use of the statins was so low when there was so much evidence of their benefits.

Benefit

Report author Paola Primatesta said research showed people who had a coronary event, or were at high risk could benefit from the drugs: "These people should be receiving treatment to lower their cholesterol. A larger proportion of the population could benefit."

She said the numbers receiving statins were increasing and that the new guidance, introduced in March this year, should extend their use.


Patients with a high risk of heart attack should be offered this important method of protection

British Heart Foundation

A spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation said: "Statins not only decrease blood cholesterol levels but also appear to reduce inflammation of the lining of the arteries - therefore patients with a high risk of heart attack should be offered this important method of protection.

"There may be cost considerations associated with these findings - but the research also highlights a greater need to ensure that patients at high risk of CHD are screened, treated, advised on lifestyle changes and followed up with a co-ordinated service."

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

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