An article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reports that statins – medications that are usually prescribed to lower blood cholesterol levels – may also lower blood pressure. Beatrice A. Golomb, M.D., Ph.D., (University of California, San Diego, La Jolla) and colleagues noted a modest but significant reduction in blood pressure for patients taking statins.

Statins are a type of drug that inhibits an enzyme involved in the synthesis of cholesterol, and thus leads to a decrease in blood cholesterol levels. Previous research has found that blood pressure may also be affected by statins, specifically for patients with high blood pressure (hypertension). It has been hypothesized that statins trigger compounds that make blood vessels wider, improving their function.

To test the effect of statins on blood pressure, the researchers conducted a randomized, double-blind trial with 973 participants who did now have diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Over a period of six months between 2000 and 2004, the researchers told 322 participants to take 20 milligrams of the statin simvastatin, 323 participants to take 40 milligrams of the statin pravastatin, and 328 participants to take placebo. The statin amounts were taken from usual doses from when they are prescribed to lower cholesterol. At the beginning of the study, the researchers took blood pressure measurements of each participant. Additional measurements were taken after one and six months during the treatment period, and also two months after ending treatment.

Blood pressure is conventionally reported using two numbers: systolic (top number) over diastolic (bottom number). The researchers found that individuals who took the statin had an average decrease of 2.2 mmHg in systolic blood pressure and an average decrease of 2.4 mmHg in diastolic pressure. The authors note that, “Blood pressure reductions ranged from 2.4 to 2.8 milligrams of mercury for both systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure with both simvastatin and pravastatin, in those subjects with full follow-up and without potential for influence by blood pressure medications (i.e., neither receiving nor meriting blood pressure medications).”

The authors, however, found that the effect of statins changed over time. After one month of statin treatment, there was no noticeable effect on blood pressure. But there was a significant effect after six months of treatment, and the effect decreased two months after finishing treatment.

“This study adds to our understanding of the effects of statins, currently the best-selling prescription drugs in the world,” conclude the researchers. “The reduction in blood pressure seen with statins may contribute – among other identified factors – to some of the ‘rapid’ cardiovascular benefits of statins, arising too swiftly to be explained by effects of statins on plaque accumulation.”

Reduction in Blood Pressure With Statins
Beatrice A. Golomb, MD, PhD; Joel E. Dimsdale, MD; Halbert L. White, PhD; Janis B. Ritchie, BSN; Michael H. Criqui, MD, MPH
Archives of Internal Medicine
(2008). 168[7]: 721 – 727.
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Written by: Peter M Crosta