In recent years, statins have come under fire with indications side-effects from these drugs could potentially outweigh any benefits in low-risk patients. While several follow up studies showed the negative side-effects of statins to be relatively minimal compared to their benefits, new research has revealed that the drugs may have positive effects, far beyond simply lowering cholesterol.

As a result of research published in 2013, an estimated 200,000 people in the UK stopped taking the medication, which the British Heart Foundation said could lead to 2,000 extra heart attacks within the next 10 years. But new research presented at EuroCMR 2017 might help convince people to stick with the drugs.

The study examined the relationship between statins and heart structure and function in 4,622 people, 17 percent of which were taking statins. The scientists used cardiac magnetic resonance imaging to study each participant's heart, and found patients taking statins had lower left and right ventricular volumes and a 2.4 percent lower left ventricular mass.

"People using statins were less likely to have a thickened heart muscle (left ventricular hypertrophy) and less likely to have a large heart chamber," explains lead author Dr Nay Aung. "Having a thick, large heart is a strong predictor of future heart attack, heart failure or stroke and taking statins appears to reverse the negative changes in the heart which, in turn, could lower the risk of adverse outcomes."

Dr Aung suggests this research should be conservatively applied and doesn't encourage broader prescriptions of the drug to be extended to lower risk groups just because of these findings.

"There is debate about whether we should lower the bar and the question is when do you stop," Dr Aung notes. "What we found is that for patients already taking statins, there are beneficial effects beyond cholesterol lowering and that's a good thing."

The debate over statins is far from over, but it is increasingly clear that the drug is an important tool in the battle against heart disease. This latest study affirms that, despite the potential side effects, the drug is valuable to those facing higher risk of heart attacks.

The study was recently presented at EuroCMR 2017, the annual Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance (CMR) conference of the European Association of Cardiovascular Imaging in Prague.

Source: European Society of Cardiology