Statins and mortality: the untold story

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Statins are first-line evidence-based drugs for the management of dyslipidaemias and to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events. However, statin clinical trials have shown marginally significant benefits on mortality, especially in the primary prevention setting. A major limitation of those trials is their relatively short follow-up. A reduced number of fatal events within a 5-year follow-up make mortality benefits unlikely to arise. This is particularly relevant for the primary prevention trials, where the risk of cardiovascular death is low. The short follow-up is a limitation for safety assessments too. However, extended major statin trials failed to detect any major safety concerns. Safety and efficacy assessments are even more complicated considering the differences of cardiovascular risk status in primary prevention individuals, and also given some potential ethnic and inter-individual genetic variations in response to statin treatment. Considerable evidence suggests a favourable risk–benefit balance for statin treatment. It can be assumed that statins reduce mortality in the long term by preventing cardiovascular events with complications that reduce lifespan. Unfortunately, this hypothesis cannot be proven as there is no current ethical basis on designing long-term placebo-controlled statin trials. Nevertheless, by effectively reducing disabilities related to cardiovascular events, statins have major benefits for public health. Therefore, clinicians should not withhold statin treatment awaiting proof of mortality benefits, as this may remain an ‘untold story’.

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