Inaccurate risk calculators & the drug industry

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A recent NYTimes article describes the inaccurate use of heart risk calculators that may lead to many Americans getting unnecessary medications of statins, the drugs prescribed to lower your cholesterol.

Unlike the point based calculators used in many (including some very prestigious) websites, we have applied the original, accurate calculations to the 10 year risk calculator used on this website.

A 5-10% overuse of statins, as mentioned in another NYTimes article [1], has an enormous economic impact, as well as unnecessary exposure to potential side effects.  Statins constitute one of the most important sectors of the pharmaceutical industry, with medications that may sell for as much as $3.50/day and total revenues exceeding $25 billion in 2009.  I leave it to you, my readers, to calculate the potential yearly cost savings!

In addition, statins, amongst the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States, may not be as safe a preventive medicine as previously believed for people who are at low risk for heart attacks or strokes.

The claim of cutting heart disease risk in half — repeated in news reports nationwide — may have misled some doctors and consumers because the patients were so healthy that they had little risk to begin with. While credited with saving thousands of lives every year with relatively few side effects, in healthy people who would take statins largely as prevention, the potential benefits may not outweigh any side effects.

Raising new concerns, recently published evidence also indicates that statins could raise a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 9 percent. For other side effects of statins please read this blog:


[1] Risks Seen in Cholesterol Drug Use in Healthy People, Duff Wilson, March 30, 2010, NYTimes

Dr T

Comments 0

  1. Hi again–

    Great article…

    I’d just stress that the article was about use of a newer statin Crestor for patients WITHOUT cholesterol problems, which has questionable benefit, and may have some risks.

    This is not talking about people with cholesterol problems! I just want it clear to patients that if they have high cholesterol, especially if they are older, we think the benefits of statins outweigh the risks. But the older, cheaper statins are just as good, and I like them because I know we have decades of data to show they are safe.

    That said, there are patients with higher cholesterol who may not really benefit from statins (for instance older patients with serious kidney problems) but it is yet to be seen.

    Thanks for your interesting articles!

    Dr. Smith

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