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Strokes and statins – do the benefits of statins outweigh the risks?

Strokes are a major cause of death and disability and much research is focused on trying to prevent the serious and life changing effects that stroke can lead to. In our Blog of 11 July we looked at the beneficial effect that aspirin can have in preventing more serious strokes after a mini stroke or Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA). Now we look at the use of statins and the controversy surrounding their prescription.

What are the benefits?

Research indicates that use of statins prevents 80,000 heart attacks and strokes every year by lowering cholesterol. For every 10,000 high risk patients, 1,000 heart attacks and strokes will be prevented and for every 10,000 low risk patients, this figure reduces to 500.

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) Guidance

In 2013, NICE recommended that prescription of statins should be opened up to more people with statins for patients with 10% risk as well as those with 20% risk of heart disease within the next 10 years. NICE expected additional prescription to prevent up to 28,000 heart attacks and 16,000 strokes every year.

What are the risks?

An article published in the BMJ also in 2013 challenged the NICE guidance and suggested that there were risks to statins which needed to be considered and these include:

  • Myopathy – neuromuscular disorder causing muscle damage
  • Haemorrhagic stroke
  • Diabetes
  • 20% of patients having statin intolerance with muscle weakness and pain

Every patient must be guided by their own doctors regarding their specific risks but with debate still raging in medical circles, it can be difficult to balance the risks effectively. The latest paper on the subject has been published by the Lancet and tries to provide reassurance that statins are safe and often beneficial.

The long term effects of stroke include permanent Neurological impairment, resulting in loss of independence and reliance on others for day to day care. Statistics indicate that both statins and aspirin have a very useful role to play in stoke prevention.

If you or your family have been affected by stroke and have concerns about treatment or management, contact a member of our clinical negligence team on 0800 316 8892 for further advice.