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For both males and females, these drugs lowered the risk of a heart attack by about 20 percent, the researchers say. Previously, some thought that statins, which include Lipitor, Lovastatin and Crestor, benefited women less than men.
"Statin therapy should be used to treat all appropriate patients, regardless of gender," said lead researcher Dr. William Kostis, of the cardiology division at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
"Despite prior concerns in the literature, the benefits of statin therapy pertain to both women and men," he added.
The report was published in the Jan. 30 online edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death among women and men in the United States. Statins are designed to lower bad cholesterol levels, which increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and raise good cholesterol levels.
To compare statins' effectiveness in men and women, Kostis' team analyzed data from 18 clinical trials that involved more than 140,000 patients, including more than 40,000 women.
Researchers use this kind of study, called a meta-analysis, to look for common patterns that might have been overlooked in the original report.
Kostis' group found fewer cardiovascular events and fewer deaths from any cause among those taking statins, regardless of gender.
Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at New-York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City and author of an accompanying journal editorial, said that "women and men have the same relative benefit with statins as far as reducing the future risk of a heart problem is concerned, but because women often start off at a lower risk level than men the net benefit is likely less."
But there isn't enough data to make solid conclusions about gender differences in the risk-to-benefit ratio for patients who don't have definite heart disease, she said.
"However, even among patients without heart disease, statins can be considered for prevention in women, but the net benefit and risks, including potential for side effects such as muscle problems and possible increased risk of diabetes, should be taken into consideration," Mosca said.
Another expert, Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and science at the University of California, Los Angeles, said many trials have shown statin treatment reduces fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events in apparently healthy people as well as those with cardiovascular disease.
While national guidelines recommend that men and women receive statin medications to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease, some experts felt there was insufficient evidence to make strong recommendations for statin use in women, particularly in regards to preventing cardiovascular disease, Fonarow said.
But this study answers those concerns, he said.
"Statin therapy, together with a healthy diet and exercise, provides substantial cardiovascular protection to women and men," Fonarow said. "The answer to the question as to whether statins work equally well for both sexes, is a definitive yes."
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