The "Worried Well" & Statin Ads

Television advertising may drive over-diagnosis of high cholesterol and over-treatment with statins, according to research done by Dr. Jeff Niederdeppe of Cornell University in the US and colleagues. The study, published on line in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, reports that when the "worried well" ask their doctors for statins after seeing a TV commercial for the medication, they are very likely to get prescriptions.

Statins have been proven to reduce LDL-cholesterol, but do they also have a role to play in the primary prevention of coronary heart disease? According to a release from the publisher, the jury is still out. Niederdeppe's team looked at how often 106,685 American adults were potentially exposed to direct-to- consumer advertising of statin drugs on national, cable, and local television between 2001-2007. They also gathered data on whether participants reported being diagnosed with high cholesterol, whether or not they had taken a statin in the previous year, as well as their risk factors for coronary heart disease.

Their analyses suggest that those adults who had been exposed to statin ads were 16 to 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with high cholesterol, and 16 to 22 percent more likely to be using statins. Interestingly, the likelihood of both a diagnosis of high cholesterol and increased statin use was driven almost exclusively by men and women at low risk for future cardiac events. Conversely, those at high risk of heart disease exposed to statin ads on TV were not more likely to be taking a statin.

The authors conclude: "Our findings raise questions about the extent to which direct-to-consumer advertising may promote over-diagnosis and over-treatment for populations where risks may outweigh potential benefits. In addition, we found no evidence of favorable associations between exposure to statins in television advertisements and statin use among those at high risk for future cardiac events."


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