In a modeling study conducted by Myriam Hunink and colleagues, a population-based cohort from Rotterdam is used to predict the possible lifetime benefits of statin therapy, on a personalized basis.
Physicians need to inform asymptomatic individuals about personalized outcomes of statin therapy for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, current prediction models focus on short-term outcomes and ignore the competing risk of death due to other causes. We aimed to predict the potential lifetime benefits with statin therapy, taking into account competing risks.
Methods and Findings
A microsimulation model based on 5-y follow-up data from the Rotterdam Study, a population-based cohort of individuals aged 55 y and older living in the Ommoord district of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, was used to estimate lifetime outcomes with and without statin therapy. The model was validated in-sample using 10-y follow-up data. We used baseline variables and model output to construct (1) a web-based calculator for gains in total and CVD-free life expectancy and (2) color charts for comparing these gains to the Systematic Coronary Risk Evaluation (SCORE) charts. In 2,428 participants (mean age 67.7 y, 35.5% men), statin therapy increased total life expectancy by 0.3 y (SD 0.2) and CVD-free life expectancy by 0.7 y (SD 0.4). Age, sex, smoking, blood pressure, hypertension, lipids, diabetes, glucose, body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, and creatinine were included in the calculator. Gains in total and CVD-free life expectancy increased with blood pressure, unfavorable lipid levels, and body mass index after multivariable adjustment. Gains decreased considerably with advancing age, while SCORE 10-y CVD mortality risk increased with age. Twenty-five percent of participants with a low SCORE risk achieved equal or larger gains in CVD-free life expectancy than the median gain in participants with a high SCORE risk.
We developed tools to predict personalized increases in total and CVD-free life expectancy with statin therapy. The predicted gains we found are small. If the underlying model is validated in an independent cohort, the tools may be useful in discussing with patients their individual outcomes with statin therapy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) affects the heart and/or the blood vessels and is a major cause of illness and death worldwide. In the US, for example, coronary heart disease—a CVD in which narrowing of the heart's blood vessels by fatty deposits slows the blood supply to the heart and may eventually cause a heart attack—is the leading cause of death, and stroke—a CVD in which the brain's blood supply is interrupted—is the fourth leading cause of death. Established risk factors for CVD include smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and high blood levels of a fat called low-density lipoprotein (“bad cholesterol”). Because many of these risk factors can be modified by lifestyle changes and by drugs, CVD can be prevented. Thus, physicians can assess a healthy individual's risk of developing CVD using a CVD prediction model (equations that take into account the CVD risk factors to which the individual is exposed) and can then recommend lifestyle changes and medications to reduce that individual's CVD risk.
Why Was This Study Done?
Current guidelines recommend that asymptomatic (healthy) individuals whose likely CVD risk is high should be encouraged to take statins—cholesterol-lowering drugs—as a preventative measure. Statins help to prevent CVD in healthy people with a high predicted risk of CVD, but, like all medicines, they have some unwanted side effects, so it is important that physicians can communicate both the benefits and drawbacks of statins to their patients in a way that allows them to make an informed decision about taking these drugs. Telling a patient that statins will reduce his or her short-term risk of CVD is not always helpful—patients really need to know the potential lifetime benefits of statin therapy. That is, they need to know how much longer they might live if they take statins. Here, the researchers use a mathematical model to predict the personalized lifetime benefits (increased total and CVD-free life expectancy) of statin therapy for individuals without a history of CVD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used the Rotterdam Ischemic Heart Disease & Stroke Computer Simulation (RISC) model, which simulates the life courses of individuals through six health states, from well through to CVD or non-CVD death, to estimate lifetime outcomes with and without statin therapy in a population of healthy elderly individuals. They then used these outcomes and information on baseline risk factors to develop a web-based calculator suitable for personalized prediction of the lifetime benefits of statins in routine clinical practice. The model estimated that statin therapy increases average life expectancy in the study population by 0.3 years and average CVD-free life expectancy by 0.7 years. The gains in total and CVD-free life expectancy associated with statin therapy increased with blood pressure, unfavorable cholesterol levels, and body mass index (an indicator of body fat) but decreased with age. Notably, the web-based calculator predicted that some individuals with a low ten-year CVD risk might achieve a similar or larger gain in CVD-free life expectancy with statin therapy than some individuals with a high ten-year risk. So, for example, both a 55-year-old non-smoking woman with a ten-year CVD mortality risk of 2% (a two in a hundred chance of dying of CVD within ten years) and a 65-year-old male smoker with a ten-year CVD mortality risk of 15% might both gain one year of CVD-free life expectancy with statin therapy.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that statin therapy can lead on average to small gains in total life expectancy and slightly larger gains in CVD-free life expectancy among healthy individuals, and show that life expectancy benefits can be predicted using an individual's risk factor profile. The accuracy and generalizability of these findings is limited by the assumptions included in the model (in particular, the model did not allow for the known side effects of statin therapy) and by the data fed into it—importantly, the risk prediction model needs to be validated using an independent dataset. If future research confirms the findings of this study, the researchers' web-based calculator could provide complementary information to the currently recommended ten-year CVD mortality risk assessment. Whether communication of personalized outcomes will ultimately result in better clinical outcomes remains to be seen, however, because patients may be less likely to choose statin therapy when provided with more information about its likely benefits.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001361.
The web-based calculator for personalized prediction of lifetime benefits with statin therapy is available (after agreement to software license)
The American Heart Association provides information about many types of cardiovascular disease for patients, carers, and professionals, including information about drug therapy for cholesterol and a heart attack risk calculator
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about cardiovascular disease and about statins
Information is available from the British Heart Foundation on heart disease and keeping the heart healthy; information is also available on statins, including personal stories about deciding to take statins
The US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute provides information on a wide range of cardiovascular diseases
The European Society of Cardiology's cardiovascular disease risk assessment model (SCORE) is available
MedlinePlus provides links to many other sources of information on heart diseases, vascular diseases, stroke, and statins (in English and Spanish)