Too Few At-Risk Heart Patients Offered Statins

Cholesterol-lowering drugs discussed in fewer than half of doctor's visits

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TUESDAY, May 31, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Too few patients at a moderate-to-high risk of heart attack are being prescribed cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, a new study suggests.

The study found that, although statin use has increased, doctors are still prescribing the drugs in only half the visits with patients who would most benefit from them. The researchers believe that doctors need to be more aggressive in investigating statin therapy for patients at a moderate-to-high risk of heart disease and that patients should ask for regular blood cholesterol level check-ups.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine examined two U.S. national databases that tracked outpatient visits to hospitals and doctors' offices between 1992 and 2002. The data included the types of medications that were either prescribed or continued during those visits. The researchers also looked at the number of patients diagnosed with high cholesterol and those at low, moderate or high risk for heart disease.

"We looked at people who were likely to benefit the most from these drugs and we found a wide therapeutic gap," study lead author Dr. Jun Ma, research associate at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, said in a prepared statement. The findings are published in the May 31 issue of the journal Public Library of Medicine.

In 2002, fewer than half of the outpatient visits made by people with high cholesterol and a moderate-to-high risk of heart disease were associated with statin use, the study said. Among those in the high-risk group, statin use increased from 14 percent of patient visits in 1992 to 50 percent in 2002. Among those at moderate risk, statin used increased from nine percent of patient visits in 1992 to 44 percent in 2002.

Ma said the increased use of statin is encouraging, but added, "It's disconcerting that the magnitude of the increase is much smaller than expected. The rate of use falls significantly short of the latest recommendations."

This study received funding from the pharmaceutical firm Merck Co., which makes some statin medications.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about statin therapy.

SOURCE: Stanford University Medical Center, news release, May 30, 2005

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