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Statins May Cut Death Risk From Pneumonia

Cholesterol-Lowering Medications Linked to Higher Survival Rates
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 28, 2008 -- A new study shows that people who are hospitalized while taking cholesterol-reducing medications have a higher survival rate within 90 days of discharge.

Reimar Thomsen, MD, PhD, of Aarhus University and Aalborg Hospital in Aalborg, Denmark, and colleagues, reviewed data from 29,900 adults hospitalized with pneumonia between 1997 and 2004. Of those, 1,371, or 4.6%, were taking statins at the time.

"Mortality among statin users was lower than among non-users," researchers write in their report, which appears in the Oct. 27 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

The death rate for statin users was 10.3% after 30 days, compared to 15.7% for non-users. And after 90 days, the death rate for statin users was 16.8%, compared to 22.4% of those not on statins.

"The differences became apparent during the first few weeks of hospitalization, a period associated with a high number of pneumonia-related deaths, and they increased only minimally between 30 and 90 days after admission, which suggests that statin use is beneficial, primarily in the early phase of infection," the authors write.

Former use of statins was not linked to decreased death rate from pneumonia.

The researchers said that other studies have indicated that statins may benefit patients with sepsis or bacteremia, or infection of the bloodstream, possibly because of the anti-clotting, anti-inflammatory, or immune-modifying properties of statins.

Pneumonia remains a major health problem. Hospitalization rates in the United States and Europe have increased 20% to 50% in the last 10 years, researchers say, and about 10% to 15% of patients die of the disease.

The report is important because it suggests another potential advantage of taking statins.

The scientists say statins change the immune response and inhibit dysfunction in blood vessels, effects that may especially benefit patients with sepsis and bacteremia, which are associated with early death from pneumonia.

"Our study adds to the accumulating evidence that statin use is associated with improved prognosis after severe infections," the authors write. "The decrease in mortality associated with statin use seems to be substantial in patients with pneumonia requiring hospital admission."

They say more research is needed, but given the availability and relatively low cost of statins, clinical trials on statin therapy could have significant public health implications.

In an editorial, Kasturi Haldar, PhD, of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., writes that the study "raises the question of whether statins should be used to improve anti-infective therapy."

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