I subscribe to the Boston Globe but usually skip the health monday pages in the “g” section. However, I read today’s edition and was really impressed by the way Deborah Kotz compiled the lead story on statins. The article (Are statins overprescribed for low-risk patients?) includes a number of praiseworthy elements in its 11 short paragraphs. The lead is clear and compelling, the issues are well-defined, and reputable sources with contrasting perspectives are highlighted.
But I was really impressed with the treatment of the statistical findings toward the end of the article:
The Lancet study found that high-risk and low-risk patients who take statins to lower their cholesterol can reduce their risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or heart procedure by 25 percent.
In absolute risk terms, statin users who don’t have heart disease would lower their yearly risk of having heart complications from 1.8 percent to 1.4 percent. Those who have already been diagnosed with heart disease would lower their yearly risk from 5.6 percent to 4.5 percent — and those with type 2 diabetes from about 5 percent to about 4 percent.
The lower your heart disease risk, the smaller the benefits you’ll receive from statins. That means the risk of side effects will play a greater role in determining whether you should take the drug.
The last two sentences, in particular, are very informative and I’m reasonably confident that the average reader will be able to understand the implications. Yet it’s rare to find such plain results presented in a mass circulation paper.
I’ll have to start reading this section more often.January 24, 2011