More on Relative vs. Absolute Risk and Statins

This is largely stimulated by a blog post by Junkfood Science from today.

I’ve talked about the dangers of interpreting relative risk before. Even if the actual change in risk is 0.3 (between 99.5% and 99.8%), the relative risk can be 150%, scare the crap out of you and get you to take a foolish risk.

Below is a chart out of one of the links JFS references, which is from a Letter sent to the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2002. The authors analyzed six (at the time) current studies on statin therapies and risk reduction of total mortality among different sets of populations. (click the thumbnail for the full-sized graphic – legible but still not very large)

Statin Chart
(From Letter to the Archives of Medicine, “Exaggerated benefit of statin treatment in the elderly?“, by Ravnskov, U, et al., July 20, 2002.)

If you apply these numbers to actual total time per individual potentially saved between statin and non-statin lifetime use, you’re actually looking at (and this is especially stupid) about 15.6 days extra life after treatment for 30 years. 30 years of taking expensive medicines with potentially very harmful side-effects for a little more than 2 weeks extra life, statistically, which means basically no guarantee for any specific individual. If you look at the chart above, you’ll actually see that some of the studies show better mortality rates for folks not on statins.

But still you get (ethical or not) medical professionals willing to testify that people, even seniors, should take (expensive, risky) statins for the rest of their lives for the sake of (no promises now!) a couple extra weeks of life. I guess it’s up to you, but I’d rather not take the statins, or pay for them, honestly.