Statistically, Not Enough People Take Statins

Too many people are taking aspirin for heart health when it may not be effective for them.

Clipboard with written prescription statins and stethoscope.

Statins may be a better option for many people looking for heart healthy choices than more commonly recommended aspirin, according to UConn Health researchers (Getty Images).

Too many people take aspirin to prevent heart disease, and not enough people take statins, UConn Health researchers report in the February 17 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The results are especially significant for people aged 75 and older.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization. Often simply called heart disease, cardiovascular disease is an illness of the blood vessels, both inside and outside of the heart. The blood vessels become irritated and narrowed by fatty deposits. Occasionally they clog completely, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Small blood clots that wouldn’t hurt a healthy person can clog the artery of someone with heart disease. Because aspirin lowers the risk of blood clots, doctors often recommend a daily low-dose of aspirin to people at risk of a stroke or heart attack.

But aspirin may be over-used in older adults.

“More recent studies show aspirin is not effective for primary prevention,” says UConn School of Medicine assistant professor Greg Rhee. It means that if you haven’t had a heart attack, stroke, or similar events in the past, benefits of aspirin are questionable.

Despite that, many older adults with no history of heart disease often take a daily low-dose of aspirin just in case, according to new research by Rhee and UConn Health geriatrician Patrick Coll. About 37% of adults older than 50 years take aspirin daily as a preventive, and many take it for primary prevention. And almost half of American adults aged 75 and older take a daily dose of aspirin, even though there is no evidence of any benefit for adults in that age group.

On the other hand, Rhee and Coll found that not enough older adults are taking statins.

Statins reduce the body’s production of the bad cholesterol that tends to clog arteries and lead to heart disease. According to standard guidelines, everyone who has had a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular disease could benefit from taking statins. But that’s not what Rhee and Coll’s analysis found was happening. Only about 70% of adults over age 60 who were eligible for statins were taking them, and less than 70% of adults over 75.

Statins “may not be good for everybody, but they should consider taking statins,” if they have cardiovascular disease, Rhee says.

Unlike aspirin, statins can be costly and are prescription only. No studies have been done to see whether the high price of statins dissuades some people from taking the drugs who could otherwise benefit; that’s the next step in Rhee and Coll’s research.