Statins are safe for children with abnormal cholesterol levels

January 16, 2018, University College London
Statins are safe for children living with genetically high cholesterol, according to new research from UCL, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology. Credit: University College London

The charity says the findings will 'reassure' parents of children with familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) – an inherited condition that significantly increases the risk of a heart attack in their 40s, 30s or even 20s.

FH is estimated to affect over 56,000 in the UK, but currently only around 600 children in the UK have been diagnosed. This means that thousands more are not on treatment and remain unaware of their future risk of heart disease.

The condition causes dangerously high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream. If left untreated, it leads to a build-up of fatty plaque in the heart's arteries which can result in a potentially deadly heart attack or stroke.

Once diagnosed, FH is easy to treat. NICE recommend that children with the condition should be considered for therapy from as young as 10 years old, alongside and dietary advice. But concerns have been raised about how statins could affect young people.

In this study Professor Steve Humphries (UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science) who identified many of the mutations in UK patients which cause FH, led a team investigating how statins affect children, using the UK Paediatric Familial Hypercholesterolaemia Register.

The researchers looked at child growth, proteins in the liver and muscles, and obesity levels. They found that statins had no impact on the growth of children, and did not lead to damage in the liver or muscles.

Interestingly, obesity rates in children being treated for FH were half what is seen in children without the condition. The researchers attribute the findings to the lifestyle changes and given to children with FH.

Professor Humphries said: "These findings are incredibly reassuring. Research has shown that children with FH start to develop a build-up of in their arteries before the age of 10. Statin treatment can not only prevent, but actually reverse this build up. Now, we can offer parents of children with the condition further comfort that the treatment is safe to take from a young age."

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, said:

"We already know that the benefit of taking a statin far outweighs any risk for adult patients at high risk of heart attacks. Children with FH are at very high risk of developing early heart attack or stroke because of their increased cholesterol level and lowering their cholesterol is so vital. However we should never assume that drugs that are safe in adults are also safe in children. That is why this research which shows that statins are not causing damage to the organs or affecting growth of children is so important and provides reassurance that they are safe to use in this age group.

"Findings like this also act as impetus to identify the many thousands of people undiagnosed with FH. Despite the evidence for genetic testing, it's rollout across the country is patchy. The BHF is working with the NHS to try and ensure that all families affected by FH are offered the testing that could prevent a potentially fatal attack or stroke."

Kim Hoare, 48, is from Sheffield and has FH. Kim was diagnosed as a result of her family history. Kim is being treated and her cholesterol is now at a healthy level. She has two children, Stan, 16 and Daisy, 13, who both inherited the condition. Stan and Daisy take statins to manage their inherited high cholesterol, and have done since they were 13 and 10 respectively. Stan is 6'4" and Daisy is 5'1", and both are a healthy weight. Talking about the promising results Kim said:

"The results of this study are such wonderful news for our family. I've never doubted whether Stan and Daisy should take their statins – they are life saving drugs. Taking a statin is just part of our daily routine, like brushing your teeth or having a shower. All that really matters is that they are on treatment to stop them having a at a young age, so they can live a normal, healthy life."

Explore further: Early statin therapy helps kids with inherited high cholesterol

More information: Steve E. Humphries et al. The UK Paediatric Familial Hypercholesterolaemia Register: Statin-related safety and 1-year growth data, Journal of Clinical Lipidology (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.jacl.2017.11.005

Related Stories

Early statin therapy helps kids with inherited high cholesterol

November 18, 2013
Children with inherited high levels of cholesterol who receive cholesterol-lowering statins in their early years have a lower risk of coronary heart disease than their affected parents, according to research presented at ...

Heart attack and stroke patients prescribed statin medication upon discharge have better outcomes

November 12, 2017
Patients with a prior history of heart attacks or stroke have better outcomes when cholesterol-lowering medications are used after they're discharged from the hospital, according to a new study from the Intermountain Medical ...

Calcium in arteries influences heart attack risk

August 8, 2017
Patients without calcium buildup in the coronary arteries had significantly lower risk of future heart attack or stroke despite other high risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or bad cholesterol levels, new ...

Poor response to cholesterol drugs may indicate blocked arteries

February 26, 2015
If your "bad" cholesterol level stays the same or increases after you take statin drugs, you may have more blocked arteries than people whose levels drop, according to research in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, ...

Quitting statins after stroke may raise risk of another stroke

August 2, 2017
Stroke patients who stopped taking statin drugs three to six months after a first ischemic stroke, the type caused by narrowed arteries, had a higher risk of a having another stroke within a year, according to new research ...

Children should be screened to prevent early heart attacks

October 26, 2016
The researchers from QMUL's Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine estimate that, with effective treatment, the screening strategy could prevent about 600 heart attacks in people under the age of 40, each year in England ...

Recommended for you

Natural antioxidant bilirubin may improve cardiovascular health

May 18, 2018
Bilirubin, a yellow-orange pigment, is formed after the breakdown of red blood cells and is eliminated by the liver. It's not only a sign of a bruise, it may provide cardiovascular benefits, according to a large-scale epidemiology ...

New algorithm more accurately predicts life expectancy after heart failure

May 17, 2018
A new algorithm developed by UCLA researchers more accurately predicts which people will survive heart failure, and for how long, whether or not they receive a heart transplant. The algorithm would allow doctors to make more ...

New genes found that determine how the heart responds to exercise

May 17, 2018
A new study by researchers at Queen Mary University of London and University College London (UCL) has discovered 30 new gene locations that determine how the heart responds to and recovers from exercise.

Novel therapy inhibits complement to preserve neurons and reduce inflammation after stroke

May 16, 2018
A team of investigators at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) has developed a novel therapy for ischemic (clot-caused) stroke and has shown in a preclinical model that it locally inhibits complement at and around ...

Greater burden of atrial fibrillation linked to higher stroke risk

May 16, 2018
Among people with intermittently recurring atrial fibrillation who are not taking anti-blood-clotting medications, those whose hearts were in abnormal rhythms longer were three times more likely to have strokes or other types ...

Stroke prevention drug combo shows promise, study says

May 16, 2018
If you've had a minor stroke or a transient ischemic stroke (TIA), taking the clot-preventing drug clopidogrel along with aspirin may lower your risk of having a major stroke within the next 90 days, according to new research ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.