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Feature Medicine and the Media

Could giving statins to over 75s really save 8000 lives a year?

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 17 April 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l1779
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist
  1. London
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}

The press spoke with one voice about a recent meta-analysis of statin use in older people, but the figure of 8000 wasn’t in the study. Nigel Hawkes investigates

“Giving statins to all older people could save 8000 lives every year,” said the Times. “Offering all over-75s statin pills ‘could save 8000 lives’” was the Guardian’s take. All of the reports in UK newspapers included the same claim.1

Yet the meta-analysis from the Cholesterol Treatment Trialists’ Collaboration, published in the Lancet in February, did not mention this claim—or seem to warrant these headlines.1 It showed that over 75s who took statins and had no history of heart problems were no more likely to survive over the next five years than people not taking them.

Modest but statistically non-significant benefit

The rate ratio per 1.0 mmol/L reduction in low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in this group was 0.95—a modest benefit—but the 95% confidence interval was wide (0.83 to 1.07), and, because it includes 1, the result was not statistically significant. This remained true, …

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