Statins are safe for children who have inherited abnormally high levels of cholesterol, according to new research funded by the British Heart Foundation.
UK researchers described the findings – published today in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology – as “incredibly reassuring” for parents of children with Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (FH).
“We can offer parents of children with the condition further comfort that the treatment is safe”
Currently, only 600 children in the UK have been diagnosed with FH, which significantly increases the risk of a heart attack in their 40s, 30s or even 20s.
However, it is estimated that more than 56,000 could actually be affected but have not been diagnosed and are, therefore, not getting treatment to reduce the risk of heart disease.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has recommended in guidance that children with the condition should be considered for statin therapy from as young as 10, alongside advice on diet and lifestyle.
However, concerns have been raised about the effect statins may have on young patients, noted the charity.
The latest study, led by Professor Steve Humphries from University College London, investigated the impact of statins on children on the UK Paediatric Familial Hypercholesterolaemia Register.
“We should never assume that drugs that are safe in adults are also safe in children”
The researchers looked at child growth, proteins in the liver and muscles and obesity levels. They found statins had no impact on child growth and did not lead to damage in the liver and muscles.
Meanwhile, obesity rates in children with FH were found to be half those seen in children without the condition. The researchers suggested this finding was down to the dietary advice given to children with FH and the lifestyle changes they have made.
Professor Humphries said the study’s conclusions would provide reassurance to families. “These findings are incredibly reassuring,” he said.
“Research has shown that children with FH start to develop a build-up of fatty plaque in their arteries before the age of 10,” he said. “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,” he added.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said it was important to establish that drugs commonly used to treat adults were suitable for children.
Spike in hospital visits by women with cardiovascular disease
“We should never assume that drugs that are safe in adults are also safe in children,” he noted.
“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,” he said.
He added that the new findings should also spur efforts to identify the many thousands of people as yet undiagnosed with FH.
“Despite the evidence for genetic testing, its rollout across the country is patchy,” he explained.
He noted that the charity was working with the NHS to try and ensure all families affected by FH were offered the testing that “could prevent a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke”.