Health News Review

Cholesterol lowering drugs known as statins can increase the life expectancy of elderly patients by an average of two years, a new study by a doctor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences claims.

Our Review Summary

The headline of this story (which was the same in other media that picked up the AP story) paints a somewhat unrealistic expectation.

The story did not explain that the study was a retrospective analysis of data on patients who were prescribed statins for specific indications, not a prospective study comparing the effects on longevity of statins on two matched groups of individuals.  There are inherent weaknesses in such "observational" studies which the story didn't explain.

While the results from this single research study that showed that for those elderly at higher cardiovascular risk, the use of statins was associated with longer survival – surprise about these results was expressed by the study's first author.  This should help temper premature extrapolation of these findings to individual patients for those who read beyond the headline.

 The story reported that "those at greater risk of death received the greatest benefit of being on the drugs" and that "statin users actually lived an average two years longer despite the patients having more health risk factors and being older than non-statin users."  But the reader is given no basis for comparison.  How much greater was the initial risk compared to other groups?  Neither the baseline risk nor the benefit were adequately quantified. 

The story didn't discuss any potential harms from statin use, nor did it discuss the cost of statin drugs. 

The story admits that the quote from the principal investigator came from a news release, not from a direct interview. Since no other source is quoted, and since key points from the study as it appeared in the journal article were missed, it appears that this story relied solely or largely on a news release.  

 


Criteria

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There was no mention of costs.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story reported that "those at greater risk of death received the greatest benefit of being on the drugs" and that "statin users actually lived an average two years longer despite the patients having more health risk factors and being older than non-statin users."  But the reader is given no basis for comparison.  How much greater was the initial risk compared to other groups?  Neither the baseline risk nor the benefit were adequately quantified.  

 

 

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There was no mention of any harms or side effects that are associated with the use of statin medications.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

It is not clear from this story that the study on which is it based followed data not patients. This was an observational study, not an experimental trial.  As such, the people prescribed statins may be different than those not prescribed statins.  This point was not discussed in the article. 

Although the study purported to examine data on ~ 1.5 million patients, in the second to last paragraph, it clarifies that to indicate that data on only 325,930 patients was included in the study. In addition, the group for which statins were not prescribed included individuals who died at younger ages than the statin group which may have influenced the results calculator. And the group not taking statins likely included individuals with serious health problems other than cardiovascular disease.

The story did not explain that the study was a retrospective analysis of data on patients who were prescribed statins for specific indications, not a prospective study comparing the effects on longevity of statins on two matched groups of individuals.  There are inherent weaknesses in such "observational" studies which the story didn't explain. 

Satisfactory

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No obvious elements of disease-mongering.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

This story only contained a comment from one of the authors of the study. (And that quote came from a news release, not directly from the researcher!) It did not include comments from any independent sources of information.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story stated that "Doctors typically prescribe statins to elderly patients with a history of coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, and smoking." which is not accurate. Doctors typically prescribe statins for high cholesterol levels. And there was no discussion of other treatment options. 

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

It's clear from the story that statins are wide available. 

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

This story accurately represented that the use of statins is common. The new observation reported was that statin use in elderly patients who smoke and who had a history of coronary artery disease, diabetes, hypertension appeared to help them live longer.

Not Applicable

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Applicable

The story discloses that the quote from the principal investigator came from a news release, not from a direct interview. 

 Since no other source is quoted, and since key points from the study as it appeared in the journal article were missed, it appears that this story relied solely or largely on a news release.  

Total Score: 3 of 9 Satisfactory


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