Objectives: To evaluate the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of statins for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular events in adults with, or at risk of, coronary heart disease (CHD). Data sources: Electronic databases were searched between November 2003 and April 2004. Review methods: A review was undertaken to identify and evaluate all literature relating to the clinical and cost effectiveness of statins in the primary and secondary prevention of CHD and cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the UK. A Markov model was developed to explore the costs and health outcomes associated with a lifetime of statin treatment using a UK NHS perspective. Results: Thirty-one randomised studies were identified that compared a statin with placebo or with another statin, and reported clinical outcomes. Meta-analysis of the available data from the placebo-controlled studies indicates that, in patients with, or at risk of, CVD, statin therapy is associated with a reduced relative risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, CHD mortality and fatal myocardial infarction (MI), but not of fatal stroke. It is also associated with a reduced relative risk of morbidity [non-fatal stroke, non-fatal MI, transient ischaemic attack (TIA), unstable angina] and of coronary revascularisation. It is hardly possible, on the evidence available from the placebo-controlled trials, to differentiate between the clinical efficacy of atorvastatin, fluvastatin, pravastatin and simvastatin. However, there is some evidence from direct comparisons between statins to suggest that atorvastatin may be more effective than pravastatin in patients with symptomatic CHD. There is limited evidence for the effectiveness of statins in different subgroups. Statins are generally considered to be well tolerated and to have a good safety profile. This view is generally supported both by the evidence of the trials included in this review and by postmarketing surveillance data. Increases in creatine kinase and myopathy have been reported, but rhabdomyolysis; and hepatotoxicity are rare. However, some patients may receive lipid-lowering therapy for as long as 50 years, and long-term safety over such a timespan remains unknown. In secondary prevention of CHD, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) increase with age varying between £ 10,000 and £ 17,000 per quality adjusted life year (QALY) for ages 45 and 85 respectively. Sensitivity analyses show these results are robust. In primary prevention of CHD there is substantial variation in ICERs by age and risk. The average ICERs weighted by risk range from £20,000 to £27,500 for men and from £21,000 to £57,000 for women. The results are sensitive to the cost of statins, discount rates and the modelling time frame. In the CVD analyses, which take into account the benefits of statins on reductions in stroke and TIA events, the average ICER weighted by risk level remains below £20,000 at CHD risk levels down to 0.5%. Limitations of the analyses include the requirement to extrapolate well beyond the timeframe of the trial period, and to extrapolate effectiveness results from higher risk primary prevention populations to the treatment of populations at much lower risk. Consequently, the results for the lower age bands and lower risks are subject to greater uncertainty and need to be treated with caution. Conclusions: There is evidence to suggest that statin therapy is associated with a statistically significant reduction in the risk of primary and secondary cardiovascular events. As the confidence intervals for each outcome in each prevention category overlap, it is not possible to differentiate, in terms of relative risk, between the effectiveness of statins in primary and secondary prevention. However, the absolute risk of CHD death/non-fatal MI is higher, and the number needed to treat to avoid such an event is consequently lower, in secondary than in primary prevention. The generalisability of these results is limited by the exclusion, in some studies, of patients who were hypersensitive to, intolerant of, or known to be unresponsive to, statins, or who were not adequately compliant with study medication during a placebo run-in phase. Consequently, the treatment effect may be reduced when statins are used in an unselected population. The results of the economic modelling show that statin therapy in secondary prevention is likely to be considered cost-effective. In primary prevention, the cost-effectiveness ratios are dependent on the level of CHD risk and age, but the results for the CVD analyses offer support for the more aggressive treatment recommendation issued by recent guidelines in UK. Evidence on clinical endpoints for rosuvastatin is awaited from on-going trials. The potential targeting of statins at low-risk populations is however associated with major uncertainties, particularly the likely uptake and long-term compliance to lifelong medication by asymptomatic younger patients. The targeting, assessment and monitoring of low-risk patients in primary care would be a major resource implication for the NHS. These areas require further research. © Queen's Printer and Controller of HMSO 2007. All rights reserved.