The group of drugs known as statins are intended to lower the cholesterol levels in people at high risk of cardio-vascular disease. However the drugs are in use by one in four people aged over 40, and the KCE estimates that 88% of them have never had a heart attack of stroke, meaning the drugs are being used preventively.
The efficacy of that prescribing policy has yet to be demonstrated conclusively, the KCE says. And while there may be little or no point in taking statins to prevent problems, there exists a problem of over-prescription.
All drugs have side-effects, and the use of one has to be weighed against the use of another medication, because of the possible interactions that may exist.
The KCE has now developed an interactive tool, currently only available in French, Dutch and German, which is intended to be used by doctors and patients together, to determine if the prescription of statins has any medical point in the particular case. The full report by the KCE is available in English.
There are some limitations: the test is not suitable for patients over the age of 65. “The test may not be used for people with a previous history of cardio-vascular problems, or with diabetes, renal insufficiency or a family history of hypercholesterolaemia [the presence of an abnormal amount of cholesterol in the cells and plasma of the blood]. These people must be considered as having an increased risk and should be given an appropriate follow-up.”