THURSDAY, May 17, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Statins -- commonly used cholesterol-lowering drugs -- can significantly lower the risk for heart disease in people with no history of vascular disease, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Oxford in England found the medication reduced the risk of major heart-related problems, such as hearts attacks and strokes, in men and women of all ages with heart disease -- as well as those with no previous history of the condition -- by about 20 percent.
The benefits of widespread statin use outweigh any known side effects, said the study's authors, led by Colin Baigent, a professor in the clinical trial service unit and epidemiological studies unit at Oxford. The researchers said their findings should prompt a review of national and international guidelines on these drugs.
Current U.S. and European guidelines restrict statin use to people with at least a 20 percent risk of having a major vascular event within 10 years.
For their study, researchers examined 27 randomized trials involving 175,000 people. They investigated the effects of lowering LDL cholesterol with statins by grouping the patients into risk categories and comparing results. The researchers specifically explored whether statins were used and, if so, the intensity of the patients' therapy.
The study revealed that statins reduced the risk of serious vascular events by 21 percent in each of the five risk groups the researchers identified, including those at lowest risk for vascular disease.
The study was published online Wednesday in The Lancet.
The study's authors noted the benefits of statin therapy outweigh any known risks. This is true even for those with a five-year risk of a major vascular event lower than 10 percent, they said, meaning "people who would typically not be judged suitable for statin treatment."
The researchers said they found no evidence that statin therapy increased the prevalence of cancer or cancer-related deaths.
"Statins may produce small increased risks of hemorrhagic strokes and in diagnoses of diabetes, but the definite benefits of statins greatly outweigh these potential hazards," the authors said in a journal news release.
Half of all vascular events occur in people with no previous vascular history, they said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently required label changes on statin drugs to warn of rare thinking and memory problems associated with their use.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on statins.