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But there is little research to guide the use of these medicines in this group of patients, the investigators added.
In the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 13,000 people who took part in an annual national survey between 1999 and 2012.
"We found high rates of statin use in primary prevention among patients older than 79 years old who didn't have vascular disease," lead investigator Dr. Michael Johansen, a family medicine physician at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, said in a university news release.
Rates of heart disease among the very elderly people rose from about 28 percent in 1999-2000 to nearly 44 percent in 2011-12, but this increase was believed to be related to survey methods. Over the same period, statin use for primary prevention rose from nearly 9 percent to about 34 percent.
"We observed an increasing trend in statin use in both primary and secondary prevention, but didn't find that high potency statin use was associated with vascular disease," Johansen said.
Secondary prevention refers to treatment in people with vascular (heart) disease.
The findings were published online Aug. 24 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
The use of statins for primary prevention in the very elderly is popular among U.S. doctors, but caution is needed due to the lack of research into the use of the drugs in this group of patients, the researchers noted.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, Aug. 24, 2015