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Statins reduce heart disease risk even in older adults, studies find

Older adults may get heart health benefits from statins, two new studies found. Photo by hamiltonpaviana/Pixabay
Older adults may get heart health benefits from statins, two new studies found. Photo by hamiltonpaviana/Pixabay

Nov. 10 (UPI) -- Older adults benefit at least as much as young people from cholesterol-lowering medications that reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease, according to two studies published Tuesday by The Lancet.

For every 80 people age 80 to 100 who take statins, one heart attack will be prevented, researchers say, while three times that number of people between age 50 and 59 would need to take the drugs to prevent one heart attack, the data from one study showed.

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Similarly, cholesterol-lowering medications reduced the risk for heart attack and stroke in those age 75 years and older by 26% for every one-point reduction in LDL cholesterol, the second analysis found.

The drugs lowered the risk for these heart-related health events by 15% for every one-point reduction in LDL cholesterol among people age 75 and younger, according to the researchers.

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"Our study provides further evidence for the cumulative burden of LDL cholesterol over a person's lifetime and the progressive increase in risk for heart attack and cardiovascular disease with age," study co-author Børge Nordestgaard said in a statement.

"With the proportion of people living beyond 70 years of age worldwide rapidly increasing, [there is] huge potential for ... strategies aimed at lowering LDL cholesterol levels," said Nordestgaard, a clinical professor of genetic epidemiology at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark.

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Up to 29% of all adults in the United States, or about 70 million people, have high cholesterol, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Prescription statin drugs, along with diet and exercise, can help manage cholesterol, although the benefits of the drugs in older adults have been less clear based on existing research.

For their study, Nordestgaard and his colleagues analyzed data on the heart health of more than 91,000 adults who live in Denmark, including 13,779 people age 70 to 100 who were not taking statins at the beginning of the research.

Participants were tracked for roughly eight years. The number of first-time heart attacks and cases of heart disease, along with LDL cholesterol levels, were recorded for each.

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A total of 1,515 first-time heart attacks and 3,389 cases of heart disease were reported among the study participants. Those age 70 and older had the highest incidence of heart attack and heart disease of any age group, the researchers said.

For example, the risk for heart attack in the overall population was increased by 34% for every one-point rise in LDL cholesterol, the data showed.

For every 42 people age 80 to 100 treated with a moderate-intensity statin, one heart attack could be prevented in the age group, the researchers said, with the preventive effect decreasing the younger people are.

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The findings show that LDL cholesterol levels are an important risk factor for heart attack and heart disease in older people, contrary to earlier studies, they said.

Meanwhile, an analysis of 29 studies involving more than 244,000 adults found that cholesterol-lowering therapies were associated with a reduction in the incidence of all cardiovascular events, including death, heart attack and stroke, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston reported.

Deaths from all heart disease outcomes in people age 75 and older were reduced by 15% for every one-point reduction in LDL cholesterol, and the incidence of heart attacks was lowered by 20%, the data showed.

However, the findings do not mean that people should wait to initiate treatment until they are older, the researchers said, stressing the importance of keeping LDL cholesterol well controlled as early in life as possible to prevent the build-up of cholesterol in the arteries.

"Cholesterol-lowering medications are affordable drugs that have reduced risk of heart disease for millions of people worldwide, but until now their benefits for older people have remained less certain," study co-author Dr. Marc S. Sabatine said.

"Our analysis indicates that these therapies are as effective in reducing cardiovascular events and deaths in people aged 75 years and over as they are in younger people, [with] no offsetting safety concerns," said Sabatine, chairman of the Thrombolysis in Myocardial Infarction Study Group at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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