Dec. 6 (UPI) -- A study has laid out new guidelines that would cut the number of people prescribed statins in half.
Researchers at the University of Zurich say that many patients are receiving statin prescriptions unnecessarily, increasing their risk for cataracts, diabetes and liver damage. The research was published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
"Ultimately, this measure helps to prevent heart attacks or strokes in only a few cases. But all people who take statins are at risk of experiencing the side effects," Milo Puhan, a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Zurich, said in a news statement.
Statins lower cholesterol in people who have a high risk for stroke or heart attack. As a preventative measure, doctors normally consider a patient's cholesterol level, BMI and if they smoke before prescribing the statins.
Current guidelines say that about one-third of people around the globe between 40 and 75 should take statins to prevent a heart attack or stroke.
The new guidelines set by the team from Zurich say that men and women age 70 to 75 should only take statins if their chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years is 21 percent. For people 40 to 45, the risk factor is between 14 and 17 percent.
While the numbers vary by country, doctors usually prescribe statins if they think a patient has between a 7.5 to 10 percent chance of a heart attack or stroke within the next 10 years.
Puhan says doctors need to strike a balance between the benefits and harmful side effects of statins. Although the study does note that two statins, atorvastatin and rosuvastatin, have a better benefit to harm ratio than simvastatin and pravastatin.
"Our study shows that today statins are recommended far too often," Puhan said. "The thresholds set by experts aren't based on any systematic studies."
Still, Puhan recommends that people consult their physicians to discuss the risks of taking the medications.