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Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 141 No. 4748 (2011)

Statins in clinical medicine

  • Jonas Rutishauser
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2011;141:w13310


Statins inhibit cholesterol biosynthesis. Their main effect is a decrease in circulating levels of LDL cholesterol, which translates into a ~ 20% relative reduction of major vascular events and coronary mortality per mmol/L LDL reduction achieved. Statins are efficient in preventing first cardiovascular events, but the cost-efficiency of primary prevention remains controversial. In primary prevention particularly, the pros and cons of statin therapy should be weighted by considering patient-specific life circumstances and assessing the individual cardiovascular risk, as provided by risk calculators. Since diabetes mellitus poses a high risk even in the absence of known coronary artery disease, statin treatment is generally indicated in these patients. There is no lower LDL threshold defining the limit of treatment benefit; rather, LDL target levels should be sought according to individual cardiovascular risk. If the necessary precautions are taken, e.g., by considering age, co-morbidities and co-medication when choosing the dose, statins are well tolerated and safe, as evidenced by many randomised controlled trials and meta-analyses. If a patient will not tolerate a statin dose necessary to achieve his or her LDL target level, ezetimibe may be added. There is no indication that statins alter cancer risk. Despite recent evidence that statin treatment is associated with a small risk of incident diabetes mellitus, this disadvantage is outweighed by the vascular benefits. Statins have pleiotropic effects, such as anti-inflammatory properties. It is still debated to what extent these effects translate into cardiovascular risk reduction beyond that conferred by LDL reduction.


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