VIENNA (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS)Patients infected with hepatitis C virus who developed cirrhosis and received statin treatment had significantly lower rates of both death and cirrhosis decompensation, compared with cirrhosis patients who did not receive a statin in a confounder-adjusted analysis of data from more than 2,700 patients in a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs database.

While this suggestive evidence is not strong enough to warrant routinely prescribing statins to cirrhosis patients, it does highlight the need to prescribe a statin to any cirrhosis patient who qualifies for the drug by standard criteria because of established cardiovascular disease or as part of primary prevention when there is elevated cardiovascular risk, Dr. Arpan Mohanty said at the meeting sponsored by the European Association for the Study of the Liver.

Conventional wisdom has often led to withholding statins from patients with liver disease out of concern for risk of statin-induced hepatotoxicity, said Dr. Mohanty, a gastroenterology researcher at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. But the new findings suggesting such overwhelming benefit from statin treatment in these patients indicates that “statin use should not be avoided” when patients with liver disease would otherwise qualify for statin treatment. “Statins should be prescribed when required for atherosclerosis,” she said, adding that in New Haven her program has run sessions to educate primary care physicians on this.

The study used data collected during 1996-2009 by the Hepatitis C Virus Clinical Case Registry of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which includes more than 340,000 veterans, of whom more than 45,000 had been diagnosed with cirrhosis. Further analysis identified 1,323 eligible veterans from this group on statin treatment, and 12,522 not on statin treatment. Propensity score matching narrowed the study group down to 685 hepatitis C virus–infected veterans with cirrhosis who were on statin treatment, and 2,062 closely matched veterans infected with HCV and with cirrhosis but not receiving statin therapy.

The patients averaged 56 years old, 98% were men, and comorbidities were common; a third had a history of coronary artery disease, more than 80% had hypertension, more than half had diabetes, and more than half had alcohol dependency. Among patients with a serum cholesterol level greater than 200 mg/dL, 57% were not on a statin; among those with a serum low-density cholesterol level of about 160 mg/dL, 35% were not receiving a statin. “Statin use is low in patients with cirrhosis, even in those with high cardiovascular risk,” Dr. Mohanty said.

She and her associates tracked the incidence of death for a median of more than 2 years in these patients, and they followed new episodes of cirrhosis decompensation for nearly 2 years. With adjustment for age, body mass index, serum albumin, and fibrosis-4 and MELD (Model for End-Stage Liver Disease) scores, the rates of both death and cirrhosis decompensation were each a statistically significant 45% lower among the patients on statins, compared with those not on a statin, they reported. 
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