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Children who have been prescribed statin-therapy as a treatment for inherited cholesterol disorders have been shown to experience long-term health benefits, according to a Dutch study.
The study, published in the JAMA journal, saw health improvements in youngsters' health after looking at the effects of the drug on 214 children with familial hypercholesterolemia (a genetic disorder that can lead to cardiovascular disease) over a 10-year period.
Children with FH usually show signs of atherosclerosis progression (where the artery walls thicken) before puberty and so guidelines allow for courses of statins to be prescribed to children as young as eight.
Statins, which lower cholesterol and help prevent heart disease, have almost no side effects, with patients experiencing fewer adverse symptoms than when taking a placebo, researchers found.
Scientists from Imperial College London's National Heart and Lung Institute examined the results of 29 trials involving more than 80,000 people and found that only a small minority of side effects are attributable to statins.
According to the NHS, minor side effects of taking the drugs include an upset stomach, headache or insomnia and rare but serious side effects include kidney failure. However, the researchers found that only the risk of diabetes was found to be slightly raised by the drugs.
Dr Judith Finegold, writing in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, said: "Most people in the general population, if you repeatedly ask them a detailed questionnaire, will not feel perfectly well in every way on every day.
"Why should they suddenly feel well when taking a tablet after being warned of possible adverse effects?"
A 2012 Oxford University study, published in The Lancet medical journal, showed that even very low-risk patients benefited from taking cholesterol-lowering statins.
Rory Collins, professor of medicine at Oxford University, worked on the research and said the number of people who could begin taking statins as a result of the new Nice guidance "would be in the the order" of around five million.
He added: "The evidence is very strong that the treatment is cost-effective at these lower levels. Doctors are now in a position to offer statins on this basis."
He said it was up to individual patients to decide whether they wanted to take statins, based on their risk assessment, but Nice's strategy would "reduce the burden on the health service".
The NHS estimates that statins save 7,000 lives a year in the UK.
Millions more people in the UK could be prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins in a bid to prevent more cases of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
In draft guidance to the NHS, which is subject to consultation, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has cut the threshold in half for when doctors should consider prescribing the drugs to patients.
Statins are taken by as many as seven million people in the UK but this could rise dramatically - with experts predicting as many as five million more may have them prescribed.
At present, people with a 20 percent risk of developing cardiovascular disease within 10 years are offered statins, but this is being cut to include all people with a 10 percent risk of developing cardiovascular disease within 10 years.