Heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, especially those 65 and older, could possibly be prevented with cholesterol-lowering drugs. According to the Heart Foundation, there is an estimated 80 million Americans who have one or more types of heart disease, which claims approximately one million lives annually. Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack is essential to prevent cardiovascular fatalities, but many Americans are unaware of the tell-tale signs of heart disease.

In a survey, 92 percent of respondents recognized chest pain as a symptom of a heart attack, but only 27 percent knew all of the major symptoms and when exactly they should call 9-1-1, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Being educated on heart attack signs is not the only way to reduce heart disease-related mortality rates; leading a heart-healthy lifestyle plays a major role in survival. A heart-healthy diet, exercise, and a healthy body weight are all ways to prevent heart disease later in life. Elderly patients (over 65) who are at risk for cardiovascular disease can reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by taking statins, suggests a new study.

Findings published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology unveiled the beneficial effects of statins on the elderly population. Researchers reviewed the data of eight trials with a total enrollment of 24,674 older patients who were at risk for heart disease but had not suffered a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime. The results of these eight studies concluded that statins reduced the risk of a heart attack by 40 percent and the risk of a stroke by 25 percent.

The participants of these trials were followed for an average of three-and-a-half years. The researchers found that heart attacks occurred in 2.7 percent of patients who took statins, compared to 3.9 percent of patients who took placebos. Strokes occurred in 2.1 percent of patients given statins, in comparison to 2.8 percent who were distributed placebos. While statins were not shown to have a protective effect in preventing death from any cause, they were found to increase an elderly patient’s life expectancy by effectively preventing the onset of heart disease.

Although these findings show promise for elderly patients who are at high risk for heart disease, statins should not be taken by everyone over 65, according to Dr. Pasquale Perrone-Filardi, senior author of the study. "The problem is that age is one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease, so it's difficult to detect among a population of old people who are the patients at very high cardiovascular risk," he said, reports Health24. Perrone-Filardi recommends statins to patients with hypertension or atherosclerosis, as the drugs help to lower blood pressure.

Guidelines in the U.S. have considered statin therapy to be a primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. According to the Cleveland Clinic, statins help prevent heart disease in patients who do not have a prior history of cardiovascular disease, but who are at high risk of developing it. Even though statins are considered a cholesterol-lowering drug, the drug can help men and women who have cholesterol levels in the normal range.

The use of statins is generally safe, but can lead to rare but serious side effects, such as muscle soreness and muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis). “The risk of these side effects is increased by dehydration, excessive alcohol use, and possibly vitamin D deficiency," William Abraham, M.D., director of the cardiovascular medicine division at Ohio State University, told Everyday Health.