Statins: Do They Lower Risk of Infections?

Statins, a class of drugs that lower cholesterol, also may lower the risk of major infections, according to a study published in this week's issue of The Lancet, a British medical journal.

Researchers analyzed the records of more than 69,000 patients who were initially hospitalized for a heart problem. After following the patients for up to four years, the researchers found that those who had been using statins not only had a lower rate of sepsis (a massive bloodstream infection) than the non-statin group, they also were less likely to develop severe sepsis or die from it.

Given this benefit, patients who "are undergoing high-risk surgery … should consider starting a short-term course of statins for sepsis prevention, even if they do not have heart disease or high cholesterol," said Dr. Donald A. Redelmeier of Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Center in Toronto.

High-risk surgeries, such as a bowel resection surgery, involve a high potential for bacterial infection.

The statins' benefit was seen even among patients already at risk for developing infections, such as those with diabetes, kidney failure and previous infections, Redelmeier said.

But, the benefit was not found with other types of cholesterol-lowering medication, such as cholestyramine and nicotinic acid, he said.

The study backs up previous animal studies that showed the risk of sepsis was lowered when statins were used. It's not known precisely why, but statins may be able to do this by altering the immune system and blocking inflammation -- two factors that play important roles in sepsis and infection.

The study's authors said that future randomized, controlled studies were now needed to confirm and further investigate the potential infection-fighting roles of statins.

Dr. Rajesh V. Swaminathan is a medical resident at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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