Statins should be made available for majority of over 60s, study claims

Almost all men over 60 and women over 75 should be offered statins, a new study claims.

The cholesterol-lowering drugs could benefit 11.8 million people - helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes - researchers say.

This includes those who have heart disease or are deemed to have a 10% or higher chance of developing it within the next 10 years.

Previous guidance by health body Nice recommended treatment for those with a 20% or higher risk.

Among the 9.8 million currently deemed to be at risk of cardiovascular disease, less than three million are currently taking statins.

But researchers estimate they are at risk of 1.16 million cardiovascular events - including heart attacks and strokes - over the next decade.

If all of these people were taking statins 290,000 of these events could be prevented, they calculated.

Extensive research has shown taking statins is safe despite reports of side effects. Credit: PA

The study, led by Peter Ueda of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in the US, was published in the British Journal of General Practice.

There has been much debate about the use of statins following reports of side effects.

But many experts say the symptoms described such as muscle pain, memory loss and poor sleep could not be blame on the drugs, especially in older patients.

Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for guidelines at Nice, said: "Heart disease and stroke are largely age-related, killing one in three of us and disabling many more.

"To make progress in the battle against heart disease and stroke, we must encourage exercise, improve our diets still further, stop smoking, and where appropriate offer statins to people at risk."

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Statins have been found to be highly effective drugs at preventing cardiovascular disease by reducing cholesterol levels of patients, and extensive research has shown that taking them is safe.

"But our patients should only take medication if they need to, and specifically they are at high-risk of developing conditions that statins can help prevent. We need to get the risk scores right.

"As with any drug, taking statin medication has potential side-effects, and taking any medication long term is a substantial undertaking for patients.

"Many don't want to take statins once they have learned all the facts - and GPs will respect patient choice."