Because most people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, many of them take a cholesterol-lowering statin drug. Might they also reap other benefits from taking a statin?
The researchers analyzed data on 39,678 people 50 and older (average age, 71) who had COPD. About 20 percent of them also took a statin. In a one-year span, 1,446 people died. Those taking statins were 45 percent less likely to have died of lung-related problems, and 21 percent less likely to have died for any reason, than were those not taking statins.
People with COPD, who have trouble breathing because of lung damage. Long-term cigarette smoking is the most common cause of COPD, but long-term exposure to air pollution, chemical fumes and dust also can cause COPD. The prevalence of cardiovascular disease among those with COPD may be related to smoking, which is a risk factor for both conditions, or to chronic inflammation in the body, a risk factor also common to both COPD and cardiovascular disease. About 16 million Americans have COPD.
The analysis did not differentiate results by specific statins; most participants took atorvastatin (Lipitor). The researchers did not have access to data on the participants' smoking status and lung function test results, which may have affected their mortality analysis. According to guidelines issued in 2015, the American College of Chest Physicians does not recommend statins to prevent worsening of COPD symptoms, known as exacerbations.
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.