Taking statins — the class of drugs designed to lower blood lipid (cholesterol and triglyceride) levels — appears to improve the chances of surviving COVID-19 in people with heart disease or high blood pressure, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
COVID-19 has been shown to be more dangerous in people with certain health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. Because of this higher risk, researchers have been interested in looking at interventions that could reduce the risk of poor outcomes in people with these conditions who develop COVID-19. Statins are a natural candidate for this kind of research because they are so widely prescribed, and because they have been shown to reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease in people who take them to treat high lipid levels. Statins have also been shown in previous research to reduce the risk of death from COVID-19 in people with diabetes.
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletters!
For the latest study, researchers looked at data from 10,541 people who were hospitalized for COVID-19 between January and September 2020 at 104 hospitals throughout the United States. To be included in the study, participants had to be at least 40 years old and diagnosed with COVID-19 prior to their hospital discharge, as noted in a Healio article on the study. The average age of participants was 66, and 42% of them took statins prior to their hospitalization. The main outcome researchers were interested in was death while hospitalized, or discharge to hospice care.
COVID-19 patients taking statins less likely to die or enter hospice
Overall, 2,212 participants, or 21%, died or were discharged to hospice care. But study participants who took statins were 41% less likely to meet this outcome than those who didn’t take statins. This was true whether statins were taken on their own, or in combination with a drug to treat high blood pressure. When the researchers looked only at people with heart disease or high blood pressure (or both), they found that those who took statins were 32% less likely to die.
Taking statins was also linked to other improved outcomes related to COVID-19. For the purposes of the study, the researchers defined severe COVID-19 as being admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU), needing intubation or mechanical breathing assistance, or dying or being discharged to hospice. Participants who took both statins and a blood pressure drug were 27% less likely to have severe COVID-19, while those who took statins alone were 26% less likely to have severe COVID-19.
“Early during the pandemic, there were questions as to whether certain cardiovascular medications might worsen COVID-19 infections,” said study author Lori Daniels, MD, director of the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at UC San Diego Health, in a press release. “We found that not only are statins and anti-hypertensive medications safe, they may very well be protective in patients hospitalized for COVID, especially among those with a history of hypertension or cardiovascular disease.”
The researchers wrote that this study provides reassurance that “aggressive initiation of statin and anti-hypertensive therapies” is still the right course during the COVID-19 pandemic, if these drugs are otherwise indicated. There is still no evidence, though, to support taking statins as a way to improve COVID-19 outcomes in people who wouldn’t otherwise be candidates for these drugs.
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read our latest COVID-19 updates.