UP to 8,000 extra lives could be saved annually if all older Brits were given “cheap and safe” statins, warns a major study.
Over-75s are automatically eligible for the cholesterol-busting pills – but only a third take them.
Oxford Uni scientists blamed “ageist” doctors and “fake news” exaggerating potential harms for nearly four million pensioners missing out.
They claim taking the 2p-a-day pill slashes the risk of deadly heart attacks by a quarter and strokes by a fifth.
The Lancet study analysed 28 trials involving nearly 187,000 patients.
Researcher Professor Colin Baigent, a director at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, Oxford University, said statins protect adults no matter their age.
Prof Baigent said the pills should be widely used to boost healthy ageing – and prevent disabling heart attacks and strokes.
He hit out at “ageist” discrimination, saying: “Very often doctors are unwilling to consider statin therapy for people who are elderly simply because they are old.
“That is an attitude that is preventing us from putting to good use the tools we have available to us.
“Statins are very cheap and they have a good safety profile.
“In the UK, there are 5.5 million people aged over 75 and we estimate only a third of those are currently taking a statin.
“My view is that everybody over the age of 75 should be offered a statin.
“If all of those took a statin we think about 8,000 deaths per year would be prevented.
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“It’s a big number, but it’s not just about preventing deaths. Death is the least of people’s worries when they are elderly.
Being disabled with a stroke or developing heart failure is something they want to avoid.”
Statins work by slowing down the production of cholesterol by the liver.
High levels are known to contribute to the stiffening and narrowing of arteries.
One in five patients complains of muscle pain, causing many to ditch them.
However, a recent study found warnings that statins cause aches were false.
Scientists said any discomfort was down to “nocebo effect” – where people suffer harm because they expect it.
Other side effects include increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Concern has been raised about the benefits of statins in older people.
“This large analysis provides powerful evidence that statins reduce heart attacks and strokes in older people, as they do in younger people, and are safe.
“Age should not be a barrier to prescribing these potentially life-saving drugs to people who are likely to benefit.”
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There are around 150,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease every year in the UK, with over two thirds in over-75.
Professor Martin Marshall, from the Royal College of GPs, said there remains a lot of controversy around statin use.
He added: “It’s particularly reassuring to see evidence of benefit in patients over the age of 75 – the age group most likely to need cholesterol medication, and who are at risk of heart attacks and strokes.”