The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) propose to dramatically increase the number of people who will be offered statins, however there many dissenting views.
Statins are currently the most commonly prescribed medicines with around 7 million people already using them to lower their cholesterol. They come in tablet form and cost less than 10p a day.
They prevent around 7,000 deaths a year from cholesterol-related diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, they also save thousands of people from non-fatal but very serious attacks.
A few decades ago many people suffered from cardiovascular disease in early middle age. Thanks to statins and blood pressure reducing treatments the condition has been delayed for around 20 years. Which means that millions of people can enjoy 20 years more of healthy life.
Previously NICE suggested that all adults with a 20% or more chance of having a stroke or a heart attack in the next 10 years should be prescribed statins.
They are now proposing to lower that threshold to 10%.
You can find out your personal risk by taking the online QRISK2 calculator.
People in their sixties are almost guaranteed that their 10 year risk will make them eligible for statins regardless of how healthy they are.
If the NICE proposal which is currently being consulted in England is accepted it would add millions to the existing numbers on statins.
Mark Baker, from NICE who was one of the people to draw up the guidelines said: "You'd probably need to treat about 60 people with statins for 10 years to prevent one heart attack or stroke." Which doesn’t sound significant but if 6 million people were treated, it would prevent 100,000 strokes or heart attacks over 10 years. These figures could be an over-estimate but taken over an entire adult population in the UK the possible health benefits are tremendous.
However many people are against the increased use of statins as it means that people would have to take the medication for life when the same effect could be achieved by simply changing their diet and increasing their exercise levels.
Changes as small as taking the stairs or getting off the bus one stop before your destination can create positive changes in a person’s health.
Offering medication for patients with inactive lifestyles instead of encouraging them to make changes could simply create more problems for them later in life.
"It's a very bad idea", stated Dr Aseem Malhotra a Cardiologist from London. "Eighty per cent of Cardiovascular disease is due to lifestyle and NICE should be concentrating on that aspect rather than offering pills to millions."
Dr Malhotra thinks that as many as one in five people on statins will experience adverse side effects such as muscle and stomach pains or increased risk of diabetes.
In defence NICE have said that the figure is much lower and serious health problems linked with use of statins are rare.
NHS Choices said "statins are generally well tolerated and most people will not experience any side effects." You can find the full list of side effects here.
Whether the proposition is accepted or not in the end it will be for the patients to decide whether they want to take the medicine for the rest of their lives following a GP consultation.
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