Everyone over the age of 40 should take cholesterol-busting statins, an eminent heart surgeon says.
Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, who has carried out more heart transplants than anyone else, said the benefits of taking the controversial drugs ‘massively’ outweigh the risks and to not make them more widely available is ‘lunacy’. Sir Magdi, professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Imperial College London, also believes statins should be available without a prescription.
Statins are the most-widely prescribed drugs in Britain and are credited with saving thousands of lives a year by preventing heart attacks and strokes.
But a row is raging about their side-effects.
A report published in the British Medical Journal said the cholesterol-lowering drugs, taken by eight million Britons, cause side-effects such as liver and kidney disease and diabetes in one in five patients.
Parts of the article were withdrawn last week, following repeated criticism from an Oxford University academic that the risks had been exaggerated up to 20-fold.
Sir Rory Collins said the figure is one in 100 and described the published claims as a ‘huge error’ that will ’cause unnecessary deaths’ by discouraging patients from taking the medicine.
Now, Sir Magdi has said that stopping taking the drugs would be disastrous.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday that he found the row very upsetting, adding: ‘It is almost certainly going to result in people not taking statins and that is a major worry to many of us because the evidence is overwhelming, the lower the cholesterol, the healthier you are and the longer you will live.
He then called for the drugs to be easier to access – and for more people to take them.
Sir Magdi said he believed statins should be available from chemists without prescription and that everyone over 40 should take them.
He said that side-effects pale into insignificance when compared with the benefits and ‘not to make use of what we have is lunacy’. Sir Magdi said: ‘The drug has been around for 25 years or so and we do know the long-term results and exactly what it does biochemically.
‘We know exactly how to monitor any complications which are very minor compared to the benefits so I don’t see the problem.’
Currently, the prescription of statins is based on health, rather than age, with anyone judged to have a 20 per cent risk of a heart attack in the next decade offered them.
But millions more could soon take the pills, as the cut-off is expected to be lowered to 10 per cent.
Some doctors have questioned the mass-medication of essentially healthy people and say there are better ways of spending NHS money.
Dr Mike Knapton, a GP and associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘I am not sure we are yet in a position where everybody over a certain age should be prescribed a statin.
‘Even if in theory it would have public health benefits it could turn life into a disease.’