Read the latest HealthWatch newsletter:  Issue 111, Winter 2019-2020

Cholesterol-reducing medications known as "statins" are the controversial subject of HealthWatch's newest Background Briefing paper. Statins have been shown to reduce blood levels of the type of cholesterol that are associated with heart attacks and stroke, but concerns have been raised at the idea of using them to mass medicate people at low risk. HealthWatch have sifted through the evidence for their newest background briefing paper, "Statins for the prevention of vascular events", which has been prepared by HealthWatch's Roger Fisken (retired consultant physician in North Yorkshire, specialised in endocrinology and diabetes) and James May (GP Principal, Kennington). 

Key points from "Statins for the prevention of vascular events" are:

  • People at high risk of heart attack and stroke are likely to reduce their risk by using statins to cut their cholesterol levels
  • The benefit of statins for low risk individuals, however, is modest
  • Low risk individuals may also reduce their risk further by using lifestyle measures, such as exercise, diet, or giving up smoking
  • Statins are low cost, and do not seem to be associated with any serious long-term health risks. However there is a debate about unpleasant and possibly limiting side effects
  • The use of quality decision aids would help patients to make an informed choice with their doctor's support

HealthWatch Background Briefings are a useful reference for journalists, healthcare professionals and patients. They now cover 11 healthcare topics, with recently added or updated briefings including "Designing clinical trials", "Multi-vitamin supplements", and "Screening and checkups for healthy adults". HealthWatch is an independent charity which receives no corporate funding, and strives to provide trustworthy health information based on best and unbiased evidence.