Thousands of over-75s 'are being denied statins by GPs' that could prevent heart attacks and strokes
Researchers believe doctors are
worried about the possible side-effects
00:00 GMT, 13 July 2012
Thousands of the elderly are being denied vital drugs that could prevent heart attacks and strokes, scientists claim.
Many of the over-75s are not offered statins to reduce cholesterol or pills for high blood pressure that are routinely given to other patients.
Researchers believe that GPs are reluctant to prescribe such medication for the elderly as they are worried about the possible side-effects.
Fears: Researchers believe that GPs are reluctant to prescribe such medication for the elderly as they are worried about the possible side-effects
As drug trials are rarely carried out on older patients, there is virtually no evidence on whether they work – or are even safe.
But a team of academics from Oxford and other universities warn that the elderly are being ‘largely ignored’ by the NHS’s prescribing habits.
Such drugs could help avert the strokes and heart problems that cause pain and disability for people at the end of their lives, they claim.
The researchers also believe that the medication could prevent many premature deaths.
Their study – published in the British Medical Journal – is further evidence of an NHS age-bias whereby the elderly are being denied the same care as younger patients.
Recently ministers pledged to outlaw such practice and from October it will be illegal for doctors to refuse treatment on the grounds of someone’s age.
The team of researchers looked at the
medical records of 36,679 patients over the age of 40, from 19 GP
surgeries in the West Midlands.
found that once patients reached the age of 75, their chance of being
prescribed statins went down dramatically. Those in their late 80s were
only half as likely to be given the pills as someone in their late 60s.
although researchers found that more of the elderly were given
medication for high blood pressure compared to younger patients, they
said many more could be receiving it.
of the team, Dr James Sheppard from the University of Birmingham, said
statins and pills for high blood pressure ‘have the massive potential
Statins are used to reduce the amount of bad cholesterol on artaries and are often prescribed to patients who have suffered heart attacks or strokes
He added: ‘If older patients have a heart attack or stroke it won’t necessarily kill them but it can leave them with severe disabilities. It’s not a case of necessarily saving lives, but it could vastly improve the quality of life.’
Dr Sheppard said the lack of drug trials on older patients made many doctors cautious about prescribing medication for them, and there was conflicting evidence over the benefits and possible risks of statins.
In May Oxford University researchers claimed prescribing them for healthy patients could prevent 1,000 deaths a year. More recently other research has suggested they are ineffective for women and cause side-effects such as fatigue.
June Davison, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Available evidence would suggest that older people can benefit from heart protective drugs, but more research is needed.
‘Sometimes there are good reasons for not prescribing certain medicines.
An older person may be more vulnerable to particular side-effects, or already be on multiple medicines for other health conditions, meaning it isn’t always appropriate to prescribe additional medicines.’
Statins can cause muscle pain and digestion problems. Drugs for high blood pressure, including ace inhibitors and alpha and beta blockers, can cause drowsiness and dizziness.