Patients who use statins, a class of drugs used to reduce risk of heart disease by lowering the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-bound cholesterol in the blood, gain an unrelated benefit, according to a new study. Taking statins also reduces by 22 percent hospitalized patients’ risk of infection with the bacterium Clostridium difficile. This microbe is thought to cause 20 percent of all cases of hospital-acquired diarrhea, and spread of a new strain of C. difficile in the United States has increased mortality rates from this infection. The cost of managing C. difficile infections exceeds $3.2 billion annually.
When the researchers compared 31,472 C. difficile cases and 78,096 matched controls, they found that significantly fewer of the infected patients were taking statins than were the uninfected controls (17.7 percent vs. 22.1 percent). Furthermore, all of the commonly used statins showed this protective effect, ranging from a 28 percent reduction for patients taking lovastatin to a 14 percent reduction for those taking pravastatin. None of the nonstatin cholesterol-lowering drugs significantly reduced the risk of C. difficile infection, while resins (bile acid sequestrants) increased the risk more than threefold.
The reduced infection risk from statin use may be due to anti-inflammatory properties of statins, note the researchers. Their findings were based on analysis of case–control data from the University HealthSystem Consortium, a combination of 107 academic medical centers and affiliated hospitals. The study was funded in part by AHRQ (HS18578).
More details are in "Statin use and the risk of Clostridium difficile in academic medical centres," by Christine Anne Motzkus-Feagans, M.P.H., Amy Pakyz, Pharm.D., M.S., Ronald Polk, Pharm.D., and others in Gut 61, pp. 1538–1542, 2012.