People given cholesterol-fighting statin drugs before heart surgery are far less likely to die or suffer complications afterwards, German researchers said on Wednesday.
The analysis of more than 31,000 patients provides some of the strongest evidence yet of the benefits of statins before heart surgery but it also found that too few doctors are prescribing them, they said in the European Heart Journal.
"This is the first big summary of all the existing studies about people undergoing cardiac surgery," said Oliver Liakopoulos, a researcher at the University of Cologne, who led the study.
"What our study underscores is the need to increase statin therapy."
Statins are the world's top-selling drugs and are highly effective at cutting the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The medicines have also made fortunes for drug companies like Pfizer, which sells the market leader Lipitor, and AstraZeneca, which makes Crestor. Cheaper generic versions are now increasingly available.
The review of 19 studies found that the odds of dying after heart surgery were 43 percent lower for people who had been on statins. The drugs also lowered the post-operative risk of irregular heartbeats by 33 percent and stroke by 26 percent.
But only a little more than half of the 31,000 people in the studies got statins before surgery.
"More patients should receive statins," Liakopoulos said in a telephone interview.
The researchers could not say what the right dose should be or how long people should take statins because patients in the studies were on the drugs anywhere from a few days to a few months.
The study also showed the drugs did not seem to make any difference when it came to post-operative heart attacks or kidney failure.
"We can't say how much or how long is optimal but these are things that need to be looked at in further studies," Liakopoulos said.