A major review led by Professorial Fellow in Epidemiology at St John's, Professor Sir Rory Collins, has concluded that the benefits of the cholesterol-reducing drug are underestimated and the harms exaggerated. Critics say healthy people are unnecessarily taking medication.

Professor Sir Rory CollinsThe Lancet review, led by Professor Sir Rory Collins, from the Nuffield Department of Population Health, looked at the available evidence on the efficacy and safety of statins. Statins reduce the build-up of fatty plaques that lead to blockages in blood vessels. The landmark review concluded that reducing cholesterol with an effective low-cost statin for five years in 10,000 people would prevent 1,000 heart attacks, strokes and bypass operations in those with pre-existing vascular disease, and 500 events in people at increased risk.

The authors also reported that the benefits of statin therapy have been repeatedly underestimated, and the harms exaggerated, due to persistent misinterpretation of the evidence. Reports of increased rates of muscle pain and weakness in observational studies, particularly, have led to claims that as many as  20% of patients have 'statin intolerance', chiefly due to muscle pain and weakness. The randomised trial evidence  demonstrates that these claims are not true. Instead, statin therapy causes an increase of about 0.3% in the risk of muscle symptoms, somewhere between 0 and 20 cases per 10,000 treated patients a year.

" Our review shows that the numbers of people who avoid heart attacks and strokes by taking statin therapy are very much larger than the numbers who have side effects with it. In addition, whereas most of the side effects can be reversed with no residual effects by stopping the statin, the effects of a heart attack or stroke not being prevented are irreversible and can be devastating. Consequently, there is a serious cost to public health from making misleading claims about high side effect rates that inappropriately dissuade people from taking statin therapy despite the proven benefits. " Professor Sir Rory Collins

Visit BBC news to watch Professor Sir Rory Collins talking about the findings.

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