Stopping Statins After Age 75: A Bad Idea?

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For people older than 75 with no known cardiovascular disease (CVD), it’s been unclear whether statins are beneficial. New findings, published in 2019 in the European Heart Journal, do not definitively answer that question. But they do suggest that this group of elderly adults faces risks of a first-time heart attack or stroke when they stop taking these cholesterol-lowering medications.

The study followed more than 120,000 statin users who turned 75 between 2012 and 2014 and had no history of CVD. Over an average of 2.5 years, just over 17,000 participants (14 percent) stopped using statins. Nearly 5,400 of the 120,000 statin users (4.5 percent) were hospitalized for a heart attack or other cardiovascular complication.

On average, people who had discontinued their medication were 33 percent more likely to be hospitalized than those who continued taking statins. The researchers estimated that an extra 2.5 cardiovascular events per 100 people would occur within four years among those who discontinued their statins at age 75, compared with those who continued taking their statins. Other medical conditions did not appear to explain the findings. However, people who stopped taking statins might have been different in other ways.

Clinical trials are under way to see whether statin use benefits elderly people without established CVD. For now, medical guidelines suggest patients and doctors discuss the value of continuing the drugs past age 75.

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