Statins, the most potent cholesterol-lowering agents available, lower LDL cholesterol (so-called "bad cholesterol") by 1.8 mmol/l. This translates in a 60% decrease in the number of cardiac events (heart attack, sudden cardiac death), and a 17% reduced risk of stroke. They have less effect than the fibrates or niacin in reducing triglycerides and raising HDL-cholesterol ("good cholesterol").
Professional guidelines generally require that the patient has tried a cholesterol-lowering diet before statin use is considered; statins or other pharmacologic agents may then be recommended for patients who do not meet their lipid-lowering goals through diet and lifestyle approaches.
The indications for the prescription of statins have broadened over the years. Initial studies, such as the Scandinavian Simvastatin Survival Study (4S), supported the use of statins in secondary prevention for cardiovascular disease, or as primary prevention only when the risk for cardiovascular disease was significantly raised (as indicated by the Framingham risk score). Indications were broadened considerably by studies such as the Heart Protection Study (HPS), which showed preventative effects of statin use in specific risk groups, such as diabetics. The ASTEROID trial, published in 2006, using only a statin at high dose, achieved lower than usual target calculated LDL values and showed disease regression within the coronary arteries using intravascular ultrasonography.
Based on clinical trials, the National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines, and the increasing focus on aggressively lowering LDL-cholesterol, the statins continue to play an important role in both the primary and secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, stroke and peripheral artery disease.
Research continues into other areas where statins also appear to have a favorable effect: colon cancer, inflammation, dementia, lung cancer, nuclear cataracts and hypertension.
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