Treatments 'prevented early deaths'
Reducing the nation's blood pressure and cholesterol levels helped prevent over 20,000 people from dying prematurely from coronary heart disease, according to a new study.
The findings, which appear in the British Medical Journal, are from a study led by Liverpool University researchers.
They looked at how drug treatment and risk factors such as blood pressure and total cholesterol relate to the falling rates of coronary heart disease deaths and different social and economics backgrounds.
They used trial data, analyses of published evidence, national surveys, and official statistics to calculate the number of deaths postponed or prevented across the population of England.
It was found that deaths from coronary heart disease fell by 38,000 between 2000 and 2007, and that of these 20,400 lives were saved as a direct result of reductions in blood pressure and total cholesterol.
The substantial fall in blood pressure accounted for well over half of the total, the calculations indicated, with around 13,000 deaths prevented or postponed.
Some 1,800 of these were linked to drug treatment, with the rest accounted for by changes in risk factors at the population level.
Falls in blood pressure prevented almost twice as many deaths among the population's poorest as among the richest.
It was also noted that falls in total cholesterol accounted for 7,400 deaths that were prevented or postponed. The researchers said that 5,300 of these were attributable to statins.
Statins prevented almost 50% more deaths among the richest compared with the poorest, whereas changes at the population level prevented three times as many deaths among the poorest as among the richest.
The researchers were not able to account for 14% of the total fall in coronary heart disease deaths between 2000 and 2007 (17,600 lives saved). They suggested this might be due to factors such as stress which could effect heart disease.
The researchers concluded that focusing on prevention, which may include public health drives to curb salt and trans fat levels in processed and take-away foods, may have more of an impact than prescribing drugs.
Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Statins played a significant role in reducing mortality rates, but this research suggests they were more effective in the most affluent areas of society.
"Given the pressures on NHS capacity and budgets, prevention is vital and addressing the health inequalities highlighted by this research could help save even more lives in the future."