Statins, which are used for lowering cholesterol, could help restore a regular heartbeat, reports The Times . Not only do these drugs reduce the risk of heart attacks and heart disease, but they “could help reduce risk of irregular heartbeat (medically known as atrial fibrillation), a condition that affects one in 20 people over the age of 70”, the newspaper said.
This news article is based on a systematic review and pooling of six studies of statins in about 3,500 people who were at risk of developing atrial fibrillation. Although the review indicates that statins may reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation in some people, limitations to the findings mean that it can’t be concluded that the benefits can be found across all patient groups, nor can the level of benefit be determined.
Dr Laurent Fauchier and colleagues from the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Trousseau in Tours, France, carried out this research. No sources of funding for this study were reported. It was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal: Journal of the American College of Cardiology .
This was a systematic review and meta-analysis which looked at the effects of statins on the risk of atrial fibrillation. The researchers searched an electronic database of research, looking for randomised controlled trials that compared statins with a placebo or a control treatment published between January 1980 and June 2007. The researchers also looked for studies that were mentioned in reference lists, other reviews and studies, or that were presented at three cardiology conferences between 2001 and 2007.
In order to be included, the studies needed to examine whether participants developed atrial fibrillation, and to follow patients for at least three weeks. The researchers then assessed the quality of the relevant studies using accepted criteria. The results from all the studies were pooled (meta-analysed) using statistical methods that took into account the fact that studies had different (heterogeneous) results.
The researchers identified six randomised controlled trials that met their inclusion criteria. These trials included a total of around 3,500 people. Five of the trials used the statin atorvastatin and one used pravastatin. Four of the trials compared the statin with a placebo, and two compared the effects of adding the statin to a standard treatment regimen with the standard treatment regimen alone.
In three trials the participants were receiving treatment for persistent atrial fibrillation or had experienced episodes of atrial fibrillation in the past. The other three trials included people who were at risk of developing atrial fibrillation because they had had heart surgery or had a particular type of heart disease called acute coronary syndrome. The trials followed up participants for between three and 26 weeks.
When results were pooled for all studies, about 9% of people in the statin group experienced atrial fibrillation during follow-up compared with 12% in the control group. This represented a significant reduction of 61% in the calculated odds ratio of developing atrial fibrillation.
The researchers concluded that statins reduced the risk of atrial fibrillation in people with a history of atrial fibrillation or in those who had heart surgery or acute coronary syndrome.
There are a number of points that should be kept in mind when interpreting the results of this systematic review:
The results of this study do suggest that statins may offer a reduction in risk of atrial fibrillation among certain populations. However, as the authors acknowledge, larger randomised controlled trials are needed to confirm these results.
Good drugs, statins.