Durham, NC—While most patients take their statins as prescribed, concern about side effects is the leading reason that more Americans don’t use the cholesterol-lowering drugs.

That’s according to a poster presentation at the recent Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association in New Orleans.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Duke Clinical Research Institute and colleagues. It was based on data from the Patient and Provider Assessment of Lipid Management (PALM) Registry.

Study authors say they embarked on the research because, even though statin therapy has been proven to reduce cardiovascular disease in high-risk adults, overall statin utilization among adults in the U.S. remains relatively low. In fact, in 2013, when American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) Guidelines were released, fewer than half of eligible adults were on statin therapy. Researchers said they wanted to better understand low statin utilization among adults with access to healthcare.

To do that, they turned to PALM, which enrolled approximately 7,900 patients from 140 sites across the U.S. who had cardiovascular disease or were at high risk for cardiovascular disease. In addition to collecting clinical data, the study also documented patient-reported information on current and prior statin experience, their perceived risk of heart disease, beliefs about statin therapy and cholesterol, and willingness to retry statins.

Results indicate that, among patients whose physicians had recommended statins, 73% were on the therapy, 8.1% weren’t currently using the drugs, and 18.9% had never used them.

As for those patients who had previously been on statin therapy, most, 54.7%, had been on the medication for >1 year; very few, 13.3%, had discontinued the therapy after less than a month. The most commonly reported reason for discontinuing statin therapy was fear of side effects such as muscle pain, 54.9%, according to the study.

Most of the patients who never had used statins, 71.1%, said the drug never had been prescribed to them. Of those for whom a statin had been recommended but who declined to initiate the therapy, the leading reason was fear of side effects at 34%, followed by preference to focus on diet/exercise, 22.9%, and “don’t know/can’t remember” in 19%.

Yet, willingness to try or retry state therapy was relatively high, with 38.9% of prior statin users and 41.6% of statin-naïve patients reporting they were “very likely” or “almost certain” to try the medications if recommended, according to the report.

“Improved communication and strategies to treat real and perceived statin side effects may improve statin usage in those who have discontinued or declined statin therapy,” study authors conclude.

“Despite high reported rates of side effects or fear of side effects, many adults not on statins would be willing to try or re-try one,” added lead author Ann Marie Navar, MD, PhD. “It’s up to physicians to talk with their patients and offer, or re-offer, statin therapy to their high-risk patients who are currently not on treatment.”

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