The nation's leading heart doctors recently issued new recommendations for the use of statin drugs for cardiac patients. There was resistance to the recommendation from many in the medical community and some said the risk calculator associated with the recommendations greatly overestimated the risk of heart attacks.
After they saw the guidelines and the calculator, Dr. Ridker and Dr. Cook evaluated it using three large studies that involved thousands of people and continued for at least a decade. They knew the subjects' characteristics at the start — their ages, whether they smoked, their cholesterol levels, their blood pressures. Then they asked how many had heart attacks or strokes in the next 10 years and how many would the risk calculator predict.
The answer was that the calculator overpredicted risk by 75 to 150 percent, depending on the population. A man whose risk was 4 percent, for example, might show up as having an 8 percent risk. With a 4 percent risk, he would not warrant treatment — the guidelines that say treatment is advised for those with at least a 7.5 percent risk and that treatment can be considered for those whose risk is 5 percent.
In the New York Times' Room for Debate, "The People's Pharmacy" public radio hosts Joe and Teresa Graedon write that patients need to do their homework:
Side effects from prescription drugs can have a debilitating effect on quality of life, which can affect health negatively. The most common complication of statins, for example, is muscle pain. Not infrequently this impairs people's ability to exercise or even socialize...
Always ask the prescriber about the most common and the most serious side effects of a proposed drug before agreeing to take it. Find out about other ways to manage the condition.
On The Daily Circuit, we'll analyze the controversy and find out what patients should ask their doctors.