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‘Please don’t be the 1 in 5’: Australians encouraged not to refuse cholesterol medication prescribed

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‘Please don’t be the 1 in 5’: Australians encouraged not to refuse cholesterol medication prescribed

Media release: 10 March, 2023

Key takeaways

2 min read

  • People with high cholesterol rejecting or giving up statin therapy has been a challenge in Australia for some time.
  • A new study from the US has measured the extent of the problem, finding 1 in 5 people at high risk of heart disease reject life-saving statins and therefore take longer to achieve their cholesterol targets – significantly increasing their risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • The study found that those who refused statins were more likely to be women.
  • While more work needs to be done to fully understand the Australian context, the Heart Foundation believes the study is cause enough for concern, and is issuing a call to the 6.5 million Australians with high-cholesterol, especially the 3.6 million women, to follow their GP’s advice and take their medication to lower their risk of heart attack or stroke.

The Heart Foundation is asking Australians with high cholesterol not to refuse to take life-saving statin medication after a new international study found that 1 in 5 people refuse their prescribed statins.

The US-based study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed the medical data of millions of US citizens using artificial intelligence and natural language processing technology to find that 1 in 5 Americans refused to accept statin therapy despite being at high risk of developing heart disease.

The study also found that women were more likely than men to refuse to take statins when prescribed, and also less likely than men to achieve good cholesterol control within 12 months from diagnosis.

Statins lower the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood, preventing this fat from building up within and ultimately blocking a person’s coronary arteries.

The Heart Foundation said the study was the first of its type and more work would need to be done to understand what was causing the reluctance.

But the results are cause for enough concern to warn Australians to continue taking their statins, especially women for whom heart health outcomes were often worse than men.

“Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death among Australian women second only to dementia,” said Natalie Raffoul, Healthcare Programs Manager at the Heart Foundation.

“High cholesterol impacts 6.5 million Australians – including 3.6 million Australian women - and is well recognised as a leading risk factor for heart attacks in Australia.

“Statin therapy is the gold-standard, first-line, cholesterol lowering medication prescribed for high-risk individuals to help reduce their chances of having a heart attack or stroke.

“If you are prescribed statins by your GP, it is because you are at high risk of a heart attack or stroke. It’s crucial that you consider taking these medicines, which are commonly regarded as having been critical to the reduction in cardiovascular death in Australia over the last 50 years.”

Ms Raffoul said the study’s findings were in line with existing evidence that patient adherence to statin therapy was poor.

“This new study suggests that even before the point of being prescribed a medication, acceptance of statin therapy is poor too,” Ms Raffoul said.

“We have more work to do to understand what is causing this reluctance so that we can improve the uptake of statins among those who are prescribed them.”

  1. Brown CJ, Chang L, Hosomura N, et al. Assessment of Sex Disparities in Nonacceptance of Statin Therapy and Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels Among Patients at High Cardiovascular Risk. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(2):e231047. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.104
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Deaths in Australia. 2023.
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Heart, stroke and vascular diseases: Australian facts. 2023.

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