Media coverage of statins controversy linked to a temporary drop in their use

Researched published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) in June reveals a temporary drop in statin use following a period of controversy over their risks and benefits. 



What are statins? 

Statins are a type of medication used for lowering blood cholesterol to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. They’re widely recommended to treat people in the early stages of cardiovascular disease or who are at risk of developing it - for example if they have risk factors including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, being overweight and smoking. But like any medication, they can have side effects. 

What did the study find?

October 2013 saw the start of a period of intense public debate over the benefits of statins in preventing heart disease and stokes, and their side effects. While there was no effect on people starting to take statins, the researchers saw a rise in the number of people who were already taking statins temporarily stopping after this media coverage. 

The authors talk through their findings in this video.  

Although the dip in statin use can be seen in the research, it’s not possible to know for sure whether people stopped taking their statins because of the reports in the media. 

The authors note that the results highlight “the potential for widely covered health stories in the lay media to impact on healthcare related behaviour” leading to a discussion in the BMJ about whether controversies in science and healthcare should be reported in the media. On the one had, media coverage could reduce people’s confidence in a drug which most health professionals believe to be safe and effective and is recommended by NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), and on the other, it could lead to more in-depth conversations between doctors and patients. 

I’m taking statins, what does this study mean for me?

Kathering Jenner, CEO of Blood Pressure UK explains “we strongly advise that you follow the advice of your GP and continue to take all medications as prescribed for you. If you have any concerns, speak to your GP about the benefits of statinss well as any possible sides.”

Where can I find out more?

Read the research paper in full.

Plus, this study estimates the number of people stopping and restarting their statins This Editorial argues the case for journalism that exposes debates over healthcare This BMJ press release highlights key opinions in the debate