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New evidence uncovered by researchers in Tayside and Bristol has shown wider benefits of cholesterol lowering drugs for large sections of the public, including women and the elderly.

Researchers have told us for years that cholesterol lowering drugs that lower blood fat levels provide large benefits to those who participated in clinical trails. However, the effects of these drugs were only really applicable to the sorts of carefully selected patients who actually participated in those trials.

The new evidence now available from a combined Tayside and Bristol research project, published this week in the British Medical Journal, shows that these drugs provide benefits of at least an equal level of benefit to patients groups who were excluded from the clinical trial - the old, the very old, women and those who are unfortunate enough to suffer from a number of other pre-existing diseases. This is really good news for those patients because it has often been found that when taken in general use rather than in clinical trials, medicines do not seem to work as well. This can be because the people in the trials have been selected to be those that will benefit most or those that will have the fewest side effects.

Professor Tom MacDonald, of the University of Dundee, the lead author of the research said “The results of this study are very important as we know now that all patients get similar benefits to those who were in the original studies. It is also good news for the research technique of studying routinely collected data (in an anonymous way of course) of many NHS patients and importantly using quality NHS data as well as being able to bring together data from a range of NHS sources. Such research has important implications in ensuring a good risk/benefit ratio for all medicines.”

The study looked at the data of nearly 5000 patients who were discharged from hospital following a heart attack over an 8 year period. The researchers checked to see the level of cardiovascular outcomes or deaths occurring in these patients and whether they had been treated with statin (the name for a particular type of drug class that lowers cholesterol). Those treated with statins had lower rates of cardiovascular outcomes and death compared to those not treated and the level of benefit were similar across all patient groups. Additionally this research study included a far greater proportion of women and showed they also had good results.

This research is part of an on-going series of projects being undertaken by university researchers in conjunction with the NHS in Tayside that uses advanced methods to develop anonymous clinical information. This ensures that the researchers can make the maximum use of such information whilst ensuring confidentiality. Such research helps to ensure that the treatments available on the NHS have the right balance of benefit and risk.

Roddy Isles | alfa
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