The routine use of cholesterol-lowering statins would cut heart attacks and strokes in people with diabetes by a third, a study has found.
Statins may prevent heart problems
The researchers say the findings suggest doctors should routinely consider giving statins to anyone with diabetes who has a substantial risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
If their recommendation was acted upon, around one million people with diabetes in the UK and 100 million worldwide would be candidates for cholesterol-lowering treatment.
I want to ensure that the lessons of this research are acted upon everywhere as quickly as possible.
This could prevent at least 10,000 heart attacks, strokes and major heart operations each year in the UK, and about one million worldwide.
The findings are based on a trial involving nearly 6,000 people with diabetes.
Half of these showed signs of cardiovascular disease, and did not.
The use of a daily dose of 40mg of the statin simvastatin cut the risk of cardiovascular problems by about a third in both groups, and also seemed to benefit people whose cholesterol levels were not high.
Dr Jane Armitage, clinical coordinator of the study, said the findings suggested that over a five year period the use of statins for people with diabetes who had shown no signs of arterial disease could prevent around 45 out of every 1,000 from suffering at least one major cardiovascular problem.
Lead researcher Professor Rory Collins said: "People with diabetes have a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes than the general population, and most of their deaths are due to cardiovascular disease.
"So, these new results are extremely important, not only for the very many people who have diabetes but also for the health systems that have to cope with this increasing global problem."
Dr Sue Roberts, the UK's National Clinical Director for Diabetes, said the research provided clear evidence that taking statins was an effective way for people with diabetes to ward off cardiovascular problems.
"Reducing the risk of heart and blood vessel disease by
planning individual care is one of the first targets in the Diabetes National Service Framework, and I want to ensure that the lessons of this research are acted upon everywhere as quickly as possible."
Simon O'Neill, Head of Care Developments, Diabetes UK, said: "We hope that all health care professionals will take this research into account when treating people with diabetes.
"Many people could benefit greatly if offered statins as an integral part of their diabetes care programme."
The research is published in The Lancet medical journal.