Today nearly 32 million Americans — one in four Americans age 45 and older — take statins, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
A lifetime of medication
Stanford's Hlatky says his concern about the JUPITER trial it that it only ran for about two years.
"Most people are not going to take the drug for two years and stop," he says. "They're going to take it for the rest of their natural lives." Statins can occasionally cause liver problems or a muscle-destroying condition called rhabdomyolysis, he points out. As the recent findings about the diabetes risk reveals, no one knows whether there might be other side effects after taking the drugs for 10 or 20 years.
Hlatky says brand-new results from Britain's Heart Protection Study are "reassuring," because an 11-year follow-up of 20,536 patients found statin users were not at increased risk for cancer or death compared with those taking a placebo. They were also 23 percent less likely to have suffered a major heart-related event.
An expert panel is currently updating the guidelines, says Michael Blaha, M.D., a research and clinical fellow at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. And, he says, "without a doubt" they're going to expand the number of people who should be on statins.
He supports the idea of using statins to prevent heart disease. If you wait until you've had your first heart attack, he asks, "haven't you waited too long?"
Also of interest: Dr. Oz: Can statins prevent high cholesterol?
Michael Haederle is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in People, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.