New guidance from NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommends statins for millions more patients in England.
The new guidelines from NICE mean that up to 15 million more people in England could be advised to take statins. Statins are drugs, which lower cholesterol, decreasing the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Draft guidance from NICE suggests that doctors could prescribe statins more frequently due to the low cost of the drugs and the advantages they offer for those at risk of complications of high cholesterol.
Statins are currently recommended for people who have a 1 in 10 chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke within the next decade due to risk factors, which include high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Under new guidelines, the boundaries could shift to cover those with a 1 in 20 chance of a cardiovascular event. According to NICE, the changes could prevent around 2% of people within this bracket from experiencing a heart attack or stroke within the next ten years. Cardiovascular disease causes around 160,000 deaths per year in the UK.
Statins are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the UK. Around 60% of adults in England have high cholesterol and NICE data shows that approximately 7% of deaths are caused by elevated cholesterol levels. NICE stresses that statins should be prescribed following thorough medical investigations and should not be viewed as an alternative to healthy eating and regular exercise.
NICE spokesman, Paul Chrisp, addressed concerns about side-effects and the impact of long-term treatment, stating, “The evidence is clear, in our view, that for people with a risk of 10% or less over 10 years, statins are an appropriate choice.”
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, suggested that taking any form of medication on a long-term basis was an individual choice, which should be made with the help of healthcare professionals. Prof Sir Samani advised patients to speak with their GP and understand the potential benefits and drawbacks. He also highlighted the advantages of discussing healthy eating and doing more exercise when taking statins.
If the draft guidance from NICE is approved in England, it is likely that Wales will follow suit.
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