Statins 'could cut risk of dying after surgery'
Giving people statins before an operation could cut their risk of dying or suffering complications, research suggests.
The cholesterol-busting drugs are normally only prescribed for patients with heart conditions or who are at risk of heart attacks or stroke.
But a new study suggests that administering statins to people undergoing operations unrelated to their heart may have a powerful effect.
The research on more than 6,000 people found that giving statins before operations cut the chance of cardiovascular complications by 17%.
Statins were also linked to a 43% lower chance of dying from any cause and a 52% reduced risk of dying from a heart-related problem within 30 days of the operation.
The study, which involved patients from eight different countries, was presented at the European Society of Cardiology conference in London.
Dr Philip Devereux, from McMaster University in Canada, said: "Among the 200 million adults worldwide who undergo non-cardiac surgery annually, more than ten million will suffer a cardiovascular complication in the first 30 days after surgery.
"Despite the magnitude of the problem, no intervention has been shown to be both safe and effective in the prevention of cardiovascular complications such as heart attack, death due to cardiac causes and stroke.
"Our finding of reduced major cardiac complications and all-cause mortality after non-cardiac surgery in patients taking statins suggests that there may be a new indication for this drug."
Dr Devereux said more work was needed and the findings did not add up to a formal recommendation to prescribe statins before surgery.
The new research looked at people given statins before all types of surgery unrelated to the heart.
In total, researchers evaluated 15,478 patients aged over 45 who had non-cardiac surgery in eight countries between 2007 and 2011.
Two groups of "matched" patients were then selected, with 2,845 patients on statins and 4,492 who were not.
Seven million people in the UK are currently prescribed statins, but experts say many more could benefit.
The healthcare watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), has said statins should be given to more patients because their cost has fallen and their effectiveness is well proven.
Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: " One of the main complications of major surgery is the occurrence of heart attacks and strokes during or shortly after the operation.
"This large observational study showed that patients taking statins had fewer heart attacks and strokes following surgery than those not on statins, suggesting that statins may protect surgical patients from cardiovascular events."
He said more studies were needed, however, including one that compared people on statins with those on a dummy drug.
"Such a study, if positive, could lead to a cheap and effective way of reducing serious complication after surgery."