In PAD, dropping statins ups death risk 43%



For patients with peripheral artery disease, statin therapy is a literal lifeline, nearly halving mortality risk, according to new research presented at the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology.

Patients with peripheral manifestations of cardiovascular disease “are a population with an extremely high risk to suffer a heart attack or a stroke,” said Joern Dopheide, MD, during a press conference at the meeting. Despite the known benefits of statins, including the reduction of all-cause and cardiovascular death and the reduction of morbidity, adherence to guideline-directed statin therapy is far from optimal, said Dr. Dopheide of Bern (Switzerland) University Hospital.

Patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD) not taking statins had a mortality rate of 34%, more than three times that of patients adherent to an intensified statin regimen. More surprisingly, patients who had been on a statin and then stopped the medication also had a mortality rate of 33%, indistinguishable from those who had never been treated with a statin.

Although statin adherence is low in general, it’s especially low in patients with PAD, said Dr. Dopheide. Still, he said, “few systematic data exist on the prognostic value of statin adherence and the correlation between adherence and cardiovascular outcome in PAD patients.”

Accordingly, Dr. Dopheide and his coinvestigators sought to determine the association between statin adherence and survival in PAD patients. The researchers obtained baseline and follow-up data for a cohort of 691 symptomatic PAD patients seen at a single site, looking at statin dosage, LDL cholesterol levels, and survival.

The patients were followed for a period of 50 months. Dr. Dopheide said that “Over the time course, we were able to increase the statin adherence from about 73% to about 81%, and parallel to that, we were able to reduce the LDL cholesterol levels from about 97 to 83 mg/dL, and we were able to increase the intensity of patients on statin therapy.”

Dr. Dopheide said that he and his colleagues saw a dose-response effect, so that the biggest drop in cholesterol was seen in patients on high statin doses, on more potent statins, or both.

Intensity was increased in some cases by upping statin dose – the mean statin dose climbed from 50 to 58 mg daily during the study period. An alternative strategy was to switch to a more potent statin such as atorvastatin or rosuvastatin; sometimes both intensity and dose were boosted.

“We were able to see that patients who were always on their statin therapy had a pretty low mortality rate of about 20%,” a figure that was halved for patients on more intensive statin therapy, who had a mortality rate of 10% across the study period, said Dr. Dopheide. “Patients in whom we started a statin therapy still profited from it, and had only a 15% mortality,” he added.

Some of the most surprising – and disturbing – study findings involved those who reduced their statin dose: “When patients discontinued their usual dose and decreased it, they suffered an even higher mortality rate, of nearly 43%. So that was kind of surprising and shocking to us.”

Identifying these high-risk patients and keeping them adherent is a substantial clinical challenge, but an important goal, said Dr. Dopheide. “We know that patients with peripheral arterial disease are a little more underrepresented in daily practice; it’s hard to identify them, especially when they are asymptomatic,” he acknowledged. However, once a PAD patient is identified, “One should at least keep the patient on the statin dosage they have,” or initiate statins if needed.

Further, warned Dr. Dopheide, “One should never discontinue statin or decrease the dosage,” adding that PAD patients should be informed that they are at “very high risk for myocardial infarction or stroke.” These patients “should regard their statin therapy as one of the most important and life-saving medications they can take,” he said.

Dr. Dopheide reported no outside sources of funding and no conflicts of interest.

[email protected]

SOURCE: Dopheide, J., et al. ESC Congress 2019, Abstract P5363.

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