Statins Reduce Risk of COVID-19-Related Death by 41%, Study Finds
A new study has found that statins, a popular class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, may decrease the odds of dying from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by 41% and reduce the risk of severe disease. Findings from this study were published in PLOS ONE last week.
The ACE-2 receptor is the entry point for the novel coronavirus, which leads to the ultimate development of COVID-19. Statins upregulate this enzyme receptor, but these medications also help stabilize the underlying comorbidity responsible for increasing the risk of more severe COVID-19 disease.
“When faced with this virus at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of speculation surrounding certain medications that affect the body’s ACE2 receptor, including statins, and whether they may influence COVID-19 risk,” according to a statement made by lead study author, Lori Daniels, M.D., who is a professor and director of the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at UC San Diego Health.
“At the time, we thought that statins may inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infection through their known anti-inflammatory effects and binding capabilities, which could potentially stop progression of the virus,” added Daniels.
Research over the past year has shown patients with high cholesterol, among other comorbidities, have an increased risk of worse COVID-19-related outcomes.
The most recent study by Daniels and colleagues from UC San Diego Health follows prior research that analyzed 170 anonymized medical records of patients with COVID-19 who received care at the university health system. Investigators involved in this initial study found statin use before hospitalization was associated with a more than 50% reduction in the risk of severe disease.
In the new study, researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine examined anonymized medical records of more than 10,500 patients with COVID-19 who were admitted to 104 hospitals across the U.S. between January and September 2020. All patients in the study were enrolled in the American Heart Association’s COVID-19 Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) Registry.
Patients in the study were an average of 66 years of age. Approximately 71% had high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or both. In addition, over 80% of the patients taking statins also took drugs to lower their blood pressure.
Patients in the study who took only a statin had 46% lower odds of death. These patients also had a 25% lower risk of developing severe COVID-19 compared with patients who were not taking a statin. Additionally, those who took both a statin with anti-hypertensive agent had a 40% reduction in the risk of death.
The majority of benefits associated with statins in these patients were seen in the group of individuals who had a history of cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure; these patients had a 32% lower risk of death.
Out of 10,540 patients, 21% had died, 39% experienced a severe outcome and up to one-third of patients required admission to the intensive care unit. Approximately 19% of patients required mechanical ventilation.
“As with any observational study, we cannot say for certain that the associations we describe between statin use and reduced severity of COVID-19 infection are definitely due to the statins themselves; however, we can now say with very strong evidence that they may play a role in substantially lowering a patient’s risk of death from COVID-19,” Dr. Daniels commented. “We hope that our research findings are an incentive for patients to continue with their medication.”