Scientists from Oregon State University are testing the waters for people with “life-limiting” illnesses such as cancer and heart disease who might feel comfortable going off of medications they take to manage cholesterol, a process researchers are now calling “deprescribing.”
Oregon State scientists believe that deprescribing statins originally prescribed to regulate cholesterol levels could improve health outcomes for people nearing the end of their life, a time where enhancing quality of life is more important than ever.
Statins are able to reduce levels of cholesterol by blocking the liver enzymes that produce it. This reduction prevents plaque buildup on the lining of blood vessels that contributes to atherosclerosis, stroke, or heart attack. However, these drugs are also infamous for side effects like muscle pain, digestive problems, and “mental fuzziness.”
"There's a lot of concern that patients will feel like doctors are giving up on them if they start to discontinue some of their medications, that there's something comforting about continuing to take their medications, and this gives us some indication of what patients feel about the risks and benefits of deprescribing,” study researcher Jon Furuno explained. The research team provided a questionnaire for study participants to express their concerns.
There were nearly 300 people overall enrolled in the recent Oregon State study, with an average age of 72 and life expectancy of less than one year. A large majority were cancer patients, and some had heart disease or other life-limiting disease. The study aimed to analyze the safety and effects of deprescribing stains by taking some participants off of the drug and some continue the drug. Despite Furuno’s concerns, less than five percent of the participants were actually concerned about being taking off of their statins, in fact, they seemed optimistic about what taking less drugs could do for their quality of life.
"Hopefully this will help inform prescribers who might be tentative to address this topic with their patients," Furuno said about the study. "As a patient's prognosis changes and we think they have a relatively short lifespan left, it really requires risk/benefit re-examination of everything we're doing for them, medications and everything else. There may still be benefits, but have the benefits changed or has the risk/benefit ratio changed?”
Furuno’s study was published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine.