Statins underprescribed to patients at higher risk of heart disease, Stanford study says

STANFORD, Calif. - The use of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins to reduce the risk of heart disease has exploded in recent years, but a new Stanford University School of Medicine study shows that doctors are prescribing them in only half of their visits with patients who would benefit most from them.

Based on the findings, the researchers say physicians should be more aggressive in investigating statin therapy for patients with a high or moderate risk of heart disease, and that patients should ask to have their cholesterol levels checked regularly.

The findings, published in the May 31 issue of the Public Library of Science-Medicine, come at a time when many Americans are still reeling from recent reports that some prescription drugs, including the painkiller Vioxx and postmenopausal hormone therapy, were overprescribed to patients who had little to gain from them.

"You have to look at drug therapy on a case-by-case basis. We have many situations where drugs are misused or overused," said lead author Jun Ma, MD, PhD, research associate at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. "In this particular case, although we did observe some inappropriate use of statins in low-risk patients, the predominant problem appears to be underuse in higher risk patients."

Since their introduction 17 years ago, statins have become the most prescribed class of drugs in the United States, with more than 126 million prescriptions filled in 2004. Statins reduce the level of cholesterol produced by the liver while boosting the liver's ability to remove LDL cholesterol, the so-called "bad" cholesterol, from the blood. High LDL cholesterol levels increase the risk for heart disease. Each year, more than half a million people die from heart disease, making it the No. 1 killer among both men and women.

Randall Stafford, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and senior author of the st

Contact: Susan Ipaktchian
Stanford University Medical Center

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