Women benefit just as much as men from statin drugs to lower their risk of heart disease and other problems, according to a study published March 9 in Circulation: the Journal of the American Heart Association. These benefits extend even to women who do not have high cholesterol or heart disease, but are at risk because of other characteristics or conditions.
What We Know
Statins are a kind of cholesterol-lowering drug used to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. However, studies have shown that women and men with heart disease can benefit from statin drugs even if they do not have high cholesterol. Heart patients with normal cholesterol levels who take statins can cut their risk of a heart attack and other problems by 20% to 30%.
Because statins are so effective in patients with heart disease, researchers began to investigate whether they can prevent heart disease in otherwise healthy people. So far, studies have had mixed results. Although most studies have found that taking statins can lower a man’s risk of heart problems, women do not seem to receive the same benefits.
What This Study Adds
The JUPITER Trial tested whether statin drugs can prevent heart disease in healthy people with normal cholesterol numbers. The study included 6,801 women and 11,001 men aged 60 or older. It focused on people with elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood, a marker of inflammation that signals an increased heart disease risk. The participants received either high-dose statin drugs or a placebo (sugar pill) for two years.
The main results of the study were published previously. Patients taking statin drugs were less likely to have a heart attack or stroke, be hospitalized for chest pain, or need a procedure to restore blood flow to the heart than patients who did not receive the drugs. However, results in women were not analyzed separately. Because of this, it was not known if statin drugs work in women, especially because earlier studies found that the drugs were not as effective in women as in men.
The paper published this month looked specifically at the women in the JUPITER study. Researchers found that the benefits of statin drugs were just as large in women as in men. Women who took statins had a 46% lower risk of developing heart disease, and were also less likely to have chest pain or need a procedure to open a blocked artery (such as angioplasty).
Women with a family history of heart disease had the most to gain from the treatment. This was in contrast to men, who experienced the same benefits regardless of family history.
What it Means for You
The JUPITER trial is the first to show that statin drugs can prevent heart problems in women without heart disease or high cholesterol. Although previous research has had mixed results, this trial included as many women as all previous trials combined.
Although these results are only confirmed in women with elevated C-reactive protein levels, they may also apply to women who are at risk for heart disease because of other conditions. An accompanying editorial recommends that a woman consider statin therapy if she is 60 or older and has at least one risk factor for heart disease (especially a family history of heart disease), even if she does not have high cholesterol. Most women who have heart disease or high cholesterol should already be taking a statin drug.
Although many doctors already prescribe statins to at-risk women, the results of the JUPITER study may lead more doctors to start statin therapy earlier in women. Talk to your doctor about your heart disease risk and your personal risk factors—together you can decide whether statin drugs can help to reduce your risk.
Mora S, Glynn RJ, et al. Statins for the primary prevention of cardiovascular events in women with elevated high-sensitivity C-reactive protein or dyslipidemia: Results from the Justification for the Use of Statins in Prevention: An Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin (JUPITER) and meta-analysis of women from primary prevention trials. Circulation. 2010;121:1069-77.
Duvernoy CS, Blumenthal R. The numbers are in: Statins for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in women. Circulation. 2010;121:1063-1065.