Today's newspapers (March 8, 2005 - this particular quotation is taken from the Washington Post) report that "a large study has produced the strongest evidence yet that driving cholesterol down to very low levels offers additional protection against heart attacks and strokes". If you have read this, you may think that it is time to get a prescription and start taking statins (as the drug companies would like you to do!). Before you rush off, let's take a look at the details of the article (New England Journal of Medicine, v 352, 2005, online).
First and foremost, the group studied were all patients with acute coronary syndrome - not asymptomatic individuals selected at random. 10,000 patients, 80% male, 96% white were included in the study. They found that the relative risk was reduced by a factor of 0.78 (Margin of Error - 0.69 to 0.89). Adverse events were experienced by 8.1% percent of the patients taking the higher dose, and 5.8 percent of the patients taking the lower dose. We note that these numbers are similar to the number of patients who had a cardiovascular event!
The article is refreshingly honest about the actual absolute risk reduction due to medication: they clearly state that if 30 patients took the higher dose medication (compared to the lower dose) for 5 years, one additonal cardiovascular event would be prevented. Clearly, the high dose (accompanied by the higher rate of adverse events) is not a panacea that prevents and cures heart disease!
For more details, please see our statin series.
Last Modification - March 8, 2005