Statin Drugs Tied to Better Surgery Outcomes

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Taking statins, the widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs, may make surgery safer.

Researchers examined results in 96,486 surgeries in a Veterans Affairs database. It included a wide range of operations, though not heart surgery. The average age of the patients was 65, and almost all were men. About half were taking statins the day before and the day after their operations.

Those on statins had an 18 percent lower risk of death within 30 days and 18 percent lower risk of complications than those who were not taking the medicine. The report is in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Statins improve blood vessel function and lower inflammation, which may account for some of the possible benefits. The researchers accounted for dozens of factors that led people to take statins in the first place in order to reduce the likelihood of “healthy user bias” — that is, the possibility that people who took statins were simply healthier to begin with, and therefore more likely to thrive. Even so, the effects of healthy user bias cannot be eliminated in an observational study like this one.

The lead author, Dr. Martin J. London, a professor of anesthesia at the University of California, San Francisco, said that while the effect was modest, still, “a patient over 45 with some risk factors — borderline cholesterol level, hypertension — might consider discussing with his doctor starting a statin before surgery.”