Cholesterol-lowering statins are underprescribed for many patients at risk of heart disease, according to a researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine in a study in the online journal Public Library of Science Medicine.
"Only 50 percent of high-risk patients who visit doctors receive statins," said study author Jun Ma, M.D., a research associate at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.
Statins reduce risk factors that cause heart disease, cutting cholesterol production in the liver and boosting the organ's ability to remove dangerous cholesterol. The study authors called on doctors to more aggressively treat patients and also urged a renewed emphasis on lifestyle factors, including exercise and diet, for lowering heart-disease risks.
Randall Stafford, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and senior author of the study, said risk-lowering lifestyle changes are still overlooked.
The study apparently is the first to examine how statin therapy varies according to the risk of disease among outpatients.
Researchers examined two national databases on outpatient visits to hospitals and physicians between 1992 and 2002, and the medications prescribed or renewed during the visits.
Among patients with high cholesterol in moderate and high-risk groups, researchers found fewer than half of patient visits in 2002 ended with a statin recommendation. Use of these drugs overall grew during the decade, but doctors said the drugs were still underused, in particular among moderate-risk patients.
"If compared to the number of patients who would benefit from these drugs, the degree of increase is less than what we'd expect," Ma said.
The study was funded by Merck Co., which manufactures statins Zocor and Mevacor, and by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Read the study.