A recent review article in JACC highlights the conundrum of primary cardiovascular disease prevention with statins among older adults. We often face this dilemma in our outpatient practices: specifically, whether patients age ≥75 without overt cardiovascular disease should be prescribed a medication to reduce their future risk, where the benefits of prevention may not accrue for several years. We are operating in a field with scant data: patients in this age group have been underrepresented in clinical trials showing benefit, and recommendations therefore need to be extrapolated from younger individuals. Accordingly there is a discrepancy in guidelines – while the UK NICE guidelines provide a strong recommendation for primary prevention statin therapy in this age group, other societies (ACC/AHA in the U.S., ESC/EAS in Europe) provide a weak recommendation, and the USPSTF in the U.S. provides no recommendation.
The authors highlight several issues to take into consideration when prescribing statins for primary prevention in this age group, including frailty, comorbidities, and polypharmacy (all of which may increase the risk of adverse drug effects), as well as limited life expectancy (which may prevent long-term benefits from accruing). They also discuss the importance of shared decision making with patients, taking into account their values and goals. Notably, statin decision aids already exist which may facilitate this process.
Several years ago we had written a piece on primary prevention for ACC.org which stated “statins are probably both under- and over-utilized in older adults,” and in my opinion this statement remains accurate. For an older patient who is functionally independent, with few life-limiting comorbidities and a strong desire to reduce their cardiovascular risk, a low to intermediate dose statin makes sense. For a patient with a major life-limiting illness, who wants to reduce their medication burden, it’s reasonable to not prescribe or even “de-prescribe” statins. Ultimately, the variation in guidelines described by Mortensen and Falk in their JACC article highlights that in the absence of consensus, care needs to be individualized – which is a central principle of geriatric cardiology.
By: John Dodson, MD, MPH