New research shows statins safe for children with high cholesterol

16 January 2018        

Category: Research

generic statin drugs in their packaging

Statins are safe for children living with inherited high cholesterol, according to new research we funded published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology.

Familial Hypercholesterolaemia, which significantly increases the risk of heart attack in the young, is estimated to affect over 56,000 children in the UK, but currently only around 600 children have been diagnosed. 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. The recommended treatment is statin therapy, alongside lifestyle changes.  Concerns have previously been raised about how statins could affect young people.

In this study BHF Professor Steve Humphries, who identified many of the genetic changes 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 dietary advice given to children with FH.

Reassuring for patients

Talking about the importance of this research for patients Professor Humphries  said:

“These findings are incredibly reassuring. Research has shown that children with FH start to develop a build-up of fatty plaque 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:

“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 heart attack or stroke.”

If you have a family history of heart disease or sudden death in the family, and suspect that you might be at risk of having FH, please contact the British Heart Foundation’s genetic information service on 0300 456 8383.

Read more about our research on FH