SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, news release, April 20, 2015
WEDNESDAY, April 22, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can help prevent heart disease in seniors, but the medications also carry the risk of side effects, new research shows.
Researchers used a computer simulation to assess whether statins should be routinely taken by adults aged 75 and older to prevent heart disease.
There did appear to be "tremendous" potential benefits, such as a far lower risk of heart attack, the study authors said. The researchers estimated that 105,000 heart attacks and 68,000 deaths could be prevented if all U.S. adults aged 75 to 93 who did not have heart disease took statins over the next decade.
However, the benefits of giving statins to this group of people would be offset by a 10 percent to 30 percent increase in the risk of side effects such as muscle pain and weakness, and slight declines in thinking and memory, according to the researchers.
The study was published April 21 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
"There's been a lot of uncertainty over the use of statins in older adults," senior study author Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a university news release.
"Prior studies have favored statin use because of the clear benefits to the heart and because serious side effects are rare. Unfortunately, we don't have enough studies in older adults, and as a result don't know enough about how common or how severe the side effects are," she explained.
"Our study showed that in older adults, even small increases in functional limitations and mild cognitive impairments from statin use could result in net harm," Bibbins-Domingo said.
She and her colleagues called for further research into the potential benefits and risks of statin use in older adults.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about statins.