Thousands of stroke patients stop taking life-saving statins because they are worried about side effects, research suggests.
Others refuse to receive the pills at all because they are put off by misleading scare stories, scientists said.
The researchers, who assessed stroke survivors’ attitudes to statins, said patients often do not trust their doctors enough to take the drugs. Six million Britons take statins every day to reduce their cholesterol and ward off heart disease.
Patients are said to have received the pills because they're put off by scare stories
But experts believe another six million who could benefit do not take them. They are particularly important for people whose hearts are at risk – especially those who have suffered a heart attack or a stroke in the past.
Statins are proven lifesavers, slashing the chance of repeat stroke, yet a scientific row over the dangers has dragged on for years, which medics fear has put many people off.
The researchers, writing in the BMJ Open journal, said: ‘Although statins are known to reduce the risk of stroke by as much as 25 per cent, benefits are undermined by suboptimal adherence.’
Roughly 30 per cent of patients fail to take their prescriptions properly. Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, added: ‘It is deeply concerning some patients are stopping their medication and putting themselves at risk without first consulting their doctor.
‘There is no doubt that statins reduce your risk of having a second stroke or heart attack and the vast majority of people experience no or only minor side effects. We urge people to continue taking their medication as prescribed.’
Statins are proven to slash the chance of repeat stroke - but scientific rows have dragged on for years
The research team, from Cambridge and Queen Mary universities, examined conversations on an internet forum run by the Stroke Association charity. Several patients said they had experienced negative side effects, such as muscle pains, and stopped taking the pills as a result. Others reported they, or the person they were caring for, stopped taking statins after reading negative stories about side effects.
One reason for failing to follow doctors’ advice was lack of trust. The researchers said: ‘Survivors expressed concerns about being prescribed medications they considered inappropriate, questioned their GP’s motivation to prescribe and at times realised when prescribing mistakes occurred.’
Practical concerns, such as the pills being too big, were also a factor. Dr Anna De Simoni, a public health academic in Cambridge, said: ‘Doctors need to listen to these concerns, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of taking the medication, and be willing to support a patient’s informed decision to refuse medications.’
A lack of trust in doctors' advice is thought to have led to patients stop taking the medicine
But co-author James Jamison, also from Cambridge, said doctors could still challenge their patients’ views. Statins are the most commonly prescribed medication on the NHS, and cost less than £2 a month per patient. NHS watchdog NICE has advised millions more should take them – even if they do not have any symptoms of heart disease.
But a study last summer found 200,000 people had stopped taking statins due to a series of ‘misleading’ papers that claimed side effects were far more widespread than previously thought.
Around 150,000 Britons a year suffer from stroke, of whom 40,000 die within 12 months.