WEDNESDAY, May 9 (HealthDay News) -- The widely used class of
cholesterol-lowering medications known as statins may help elderly
patients with high blood pressure avoid developing atrial
fibrillation, a heart rhythm abnormality tied to stroke.
"Our study found that statin therapy in elderly patients with hypertension reduces the risk of new-onset atrial fibrillation," said Dr. Chen-Ying Hung, lead author of a study scheduled for presentation Wednesday at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual meeting in Boston.
But the findings are extremely preliminary and don't provide
enough evidence to support this particular use of statins, such as
Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Zocor (simvastatin) just yet, said the
study authors and outside experts alike.
"We still need further studies to confirm this relationship before we can suggest statin use in [this population]," said Hung, a fellow at the Cardiovascular Center at Taichung Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan, which supported the research.
Other experts agreed.
"We have to be careful about jumping to final conclusions based on studies which are not primarily designed to look at this particular phenomenon," added Dr. Yisachar Greenberg, director of electrophysiology at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City. "This needs to be repeated and confirmed."
Millions of people around the world take statins to treat and
prevent coronary disease, but they are also being studied for other
indications, such as preventing dementia.
Hung and his collaborators reviewed medical records of 1 million
individuals included in a large insurance database in Taiwan. Of
about 27,000 patients aged 65 and older, nearly 9 percent took
statins. Overall, during a nine-year follow-up, more than 2,200
individuals developed atrial fibrillation.
At the end of the follow-up period, statins had reduced the risk
of atrial fibrillation by 19 percent in patients with or without
other medical problems, such as diabetes, stroke and kidney
The statins were particularly effective among patients with a
higher CHADS2 score, a measurement developed to predict the odds of
stroke in patients who already had atrial fibrillation (AF). The
score takes into account the presence of congestive heart failure,
hypertension and other factors, and recent studies have shown that
it can also be used to estimate the risk of stroke in people who
don't have atrial fibrillation, Hung said.
"The study is the first to explore the relationship between the AF protective effect of statins and the CHADS2 score," he added.
Dr. Kenneth Ong, interim chief of cardiology at the Brooklyn
Hospital Center in New York City, said "statins do reduce
inflammation, and inflammation has been associated with atrial
But Ong questioned the validity of the CHADS2 findings.
"Although the CHADS2 score may be a practical way of identifying
patients who can potentially be treated with statins, it's not a
tested method," he said. "They didn't use the score to test a
hypothesis. They just examined the data, which may or may not be
However, Hung said there are some reasons to believe that
statins could affect atrial fibrillation through various methods,
including improved lipid (blood fat) metabolism; prevention of
atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque in the arteries, and
endothelial dysfunction; and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant
Serious side effects with statins are unusual, but the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration recently insisted on label changes alerting
users to problems with blood sugar levels and rare cases of
confusion and memory loss.
Data and conclusions presented at medical meetings should be
considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical
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