For patients with compensated cirrhosis, statin therapy was associated with about a 46% decrease in the risk of hepatic decompensation and mortality and with a 27% drop in the risk of portal hypertension and variceal bleeding, according to moderate-quality evidence from a systematic review and meta-analysis of 13 studies.

Low-quality data also suggested that statins might help protect against the progression of noncirrhotic chronic liver disease, said Rebecca G. Kim of the University of California at San Diego and her associates. “Large, pragmatic randomized controlled trials in patients with compensated cirrhosis are required to confirm these observations,” they wrote in the October issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology ( doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2017.04.039 ).

Prior studies have reported mixed findings on how statin therapy affects chronic liver disease. For their review, Ms. Kim and her associates searched MEDLINE, Embase, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database and Systematic Reviews, Scopus, Web of Science, and PubMed for randomized controlled trials or cohort studies published through March 25, 2017. They identified 10 cohort studies and three randomized controlled trials of adults with fibrosis without cirrhosis, compensated cirrhosis, or decompensated cirrhosis that evaluated statin exposure and reported associations between exposure and outcomes related to cirrhosis. They excluded case-control studies, cross-sectional studies, and studies that focused only on the relationship between statin use and the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma.

The resulting data set included 121,058 patients with chronic liver diseases, of whom 85% had chronic hepatitis C virus infection. A total of 46% of patients were exposed to statins, which appeared to reduce their risk of hepatic decompensation, variceal bleeding, and mortality. Among 87 such patients in five studies, statin use was associated with a 46% decrease in the risk of hepatic decompensation and death, with risk ratios of 0.54 (95% confidence intervals, 0.46-0.62 and 0.47-0.61, respectively). Statin use also was associated with a 27% lower risk of variceal bleeding or progression of portal hypertension, based on an analysis of 110 events in 236 patients from three trials (RR, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.59-0.91). Finally, statin use also was associated with a 58% lower risk of fibrosis progression or cirrhosis in patients with noncirrhotic chronic liver disease, but the 95% CIs for the risk estimate did not reach statistical significance (0.16-1.11).

Most studies lacked data on dose and duration of statin exposure, the researchers said. However, four cohort studies reported dose-dependent effects that were most pronounced after more than a year of treatment. “Similarly, several different types of statins were studied, and observed effects were assumed to be class-specific effects,” the reviewers wrote. “However, it is possible that lipophilic and lipophobic statins may have differential efficacy in decreasing fibrosis progression.”

Together, these findings support prior studies suggesting that statin therapy is safe and can potentially reduce the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma in this patient population, they concluded. Statins “may potentially improve patient-relevant outcomes in patients with chronic liver diseases and improve survival without significant additional costs.”

The reviewers acknowledged the American Gastroenterological Association Foundation, a T. Franklin Williams Scholarship Award, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Library of Medicine. They reported having no relevant conflicts of interest.


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