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Summary of major findings of the Heart Protection Study
• Cholesterol-lowering with statin treatment reduced the risk of heart attacks and strokes by at least one third, as well as reducing the need for arterial surgery, angioplasty and amputations.
• Substantial reductions in these “major vascular events” were found in a very wide range of high-risk patients for whom there had previously been uncertainty about using cholesterol-lowering treatment, including:
– women as well as men;
– people aged over 70 as well as younger people;
– people who have diabetes, narrowing of arteries in their legs or a history of stroke, as well as those who already have heart disease;
– people with blood levels of total cholesterol below 5 mmol/l (approx. 200 mg/dl) or ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol below 3mmol/l (approx. 120mg/dl), as well as those considered to have ‘high’ levels.
• About 5 years of statin treatment typically prevented these major vascular events in:
– 100 of every 1,000 people who have previously had a heart attack
– 80 of every 1,000 people with angina or some other evidence of coronary heart disease
– 70 of every 1,000 patients who have previously had a stroke
– 70 of every 1,000 patients with occlusive disease in leg or other arteries
– 70 of every 1,000 people with diabetes
• In addition, continued treatment with a statin prevented further major vascular events and deaths in those people who had already had one heart attack or stroke.
• The benefits of treatment increased throughout the 5-year study treatment period, so more prolonged use of a statin would be expected to produce even bigger benefits.
• The benefits of statins were additional to those of other treatments used to prevent heart attacks or strokes, such as aspirin and blood pressure-lowering drugs
• The trial provides uniquely reliable evidence about the safety of the 40 mg simvastatin daily regimen used. There was no support for previous concerns about possible adverse effects of lowering cholesterol on particular non-vascular causes of death, on cancers or on strokes due to bleeding.
Based on WHO estimates of the numbers of people with coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes, it can be estimated that the results are relevant to the treatment of some hundreds of millions of people worldwide (see table). If an extra 10 million high-risk people were to start statin treatment this would save about 50,000 lives each year and would prevent similar numbers from suffering non-fatal heart attacks or strokes.
*WHO Global Health Statistics (Murray CJL & Lopez AD, 1996): Estimates of numbers of people at all ages with coronary heart disease (angina), with stroke and with diabetes in 1990. NOTE: Some people may have more than one of these conditions and so be included in more than one column (i.e. there is some “double counting” due to overlap), but similar statistics are not readily available for people with other occlusive arterial disease (which would tend to under-estimate the size of the population to which the study results are relevant).
†Established Market Economies are Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, New Zealand and US. WHO prevalence estimates for countries or areas within regions are not currently available, but (based on population size) the numbers of people with these conditions would be expected to be about 17M in US, 26M in Europe and 4M in UK alone.