Rows Erupt Over Increased Risk of Heart Attacks and Statins Coverage in the Media

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Wednesday December 2nd, 2015

Conflict of interest claims have caused a major argument over a study that links negative news reports regarding statins with a heightened risk of cardiac arrests and heart disease-related deaths.

Professor Borge Nordestgaard is a Danish scientist and was co-author of the study. He has admitted to receiving lecture payments and consultancy fees from a number of medication companies, including Merck, Pfizer and AstraZeneca. These three are chief producers of cholesterol-reducing medication taken by millions of people across Britain.

The disclosure was given in a concise conflict of interest statement at the research paper’s conclusion and provoked a reaction from a doctors’ leader.

Deputy Chairman of the BMA (British Medical Association), Dr Kailash Chand, said doctors should be concentrating on studies that are beneficial to patients rather than the advance of medication companies or their own careers.

He went on to say that the reality of a conflict of interest often creates the illusion of bias even if the researcher acts impartially. He said bias is very apparent in this study. As an outspoken opponent of what he believes is hype driven by industry in regard to statins, Dr Chand represented his own views and not those of the British Medical Association.

The study was independently funded as it is accounted in highly respected publication, the European Heart Journal. It is based on data analysis of 674,000 Danish citizens aged 40+ who used statins between 1995 and 2011.

The participants’ progress was monitored until December 2011 and compared to media coverage trends in relation to statins.

The study’s authors discovered a connection between people putting an end to taking statins up to six months after their initial prescription and negative news stories.

In turn, this was associated with a bigger risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease-related deaths.

Throughout the duration of the study, 731 positive, 1,090 neutral and 110 negative stories about statins were broadcast or published nationally in Denmark. According to the researchers, for every negative story, the risk of patients pausing their treatment rose by 9%.

Professor Nordestgaard said the researchers found exposure to negative stories in the news surrounding statins was linked to stopping statin treatment early and this explained 1% of all deaths related to cardiovascular disease and 2% of all heart attacks associated with early statins discontinuation.

He also said people who discontinued statins early have a 26% higher risk of heart attack and 18% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to people who continue using them.

Dr Chand argues that the conclusions of the study are misleading and detract from the real problem surrounding statins, which is a lack of transparency regarding the side effects of the drugs and the fact that their benefits have been exaggerated.

Commenting generally about the conflict of interest, he said medical research is loaded with fraud, careerism and incompetence.

Other experts said the study showed both strengths and weaknesses.