The British Heart Foundation should stick to the (scientific) facts

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The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is the UK’s largest and best-known ‘heart’ charity and, on the surface at least, appears devoted to doing what it can to reduce the burden of ‘cardiovascular’ issues such as heart attacks and strokes. The BHF website offers a number of stories of people which appear to highlight pertinent issues in the area and the importance of good medical care. Here’s an example.

There’s not much detail to go on here, but but from what I can make out, Jill is a 53-year-old long-term diabetic. Some time ago she was diagnosed with ‘high cholesterol’ but initially resisted the idea that she needed medication for this. But her doctor was “absolutely straight with [her]”, and she concluded that, no matter what her own feelings were on the subject, she simply “had to” take the statins.

Then we learn that: “It was a massive shock when I had my heart attack a few years later. That was a real wake-up call and I find it really hard to imagine that people wouldn’t take their cholesterol or blood pressure medicine if they knew what it was like to live with heart disease.”

It seems to me that the BHF is using Jill’s experience to help persuade individuals to take their medication. Some might call it scare tactics. If the BHF’s intention is to use Jill as a prime example of why individuals should take their medications as they’re told to by their doctors then I think the exercise has failed. After all, despite taking her medication, Jill still went on to have a heart attack: this is not exactly a ringing endorsement for the effectiveness and indispensable nature of statins.

But never mind this inconvenient fact, because we’re informed by Jill that: “My doctor told me if I hadn’t stuck to taking my medicines, my heart attack would have happened a lot sooner.” The reality is, though, there is simply no way Jill’s doctor (or anyone else) can legitimately make such a claim, as he or she has no way of knowing if it’s true or not. It’s an opinion, and a highly speculative one at that.

Of course, some might feel that at least Jill is at least alive to tell her tale, and perhaps the statins she took had some value here. However, we know from recent research discussed here that statins do not reduce the risk of death in women, even those who are at high risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes.

The BHF is an organisation that some would look to for balanced and impartial information and advice about the prevention and management of cardiovascular disease. And I think case studies such as this do the general public a huge disservice. Bereft of science, Jill’s story does not truly inform us at all, and perhaps only serves to scare people into taking their medication. Personally, I’d like to see the BHF stick to the facts: the scientific facts. If they did, though, we could all see just how ineffective many of the medications we ‘rely on’ really are.

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