Effects of Hypercholesterolemia and Statin Exposure on Survival in a Large National Cohort of Patients With Cirrhosis

Gastroenterology. 2019 May;156(6):1693-1706.e12. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2019.01.026. Epub 2019 Jan 18.


Background & aims: Concerns related to hepatotoxicity frequently lead to discontinuation or non-initiation of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase therapy in patients with cirrhosis despite data supporting statin use. We investigated the independent effects of hyperlipidemia and statin exposure on mortality, hepatic decompensation, and hepatocellular carcinoma development in a large national cohort of patients with cirrhosis.

Methods: We performed a retrospective cohort study of patients with newly diagnosed cirrhosis from January 1, 2008 through June 30, 2016 in the Veterans Health Administration. Subjects were divided into 2 cohorts: 21,921 patients with prior statin exposure (existing users) and 51,023 statin-naïve individuals, of whom 8794 subsequently initiated statin therapy (new initiators) and 44,269 did not (non-initiators). Multivariable Cox proportional hazard models with inverse probability weighting were constructed to assess the effects of time-updating lipid profiles and cumulative exposure to statins on survival and hepatic decompensation. Statin-naïve new initiators were propensity matched with non-initiators to simulate a randomized controlled trial of statin use in cirrhosis.

Results: In statin-naïve subjects, every 10-mg/dL increase in baseline total cholesterol was associated with a 3.6% decrease in mortality. In existing users, each year of continued statin exposure was associated with a hazard ratio of 0.920 (95% confidence interval 0.0.897-0.943) for mortality. After risk-set matching, each year of statin exposure among new initiators was associated with a hazard ratio of 0.913 (95% confidence interval 0.890-0.937) for mortality.

Conclusions: In a retrospective cohort study of veterans with a new diagnosis of cirrhosis, we associated hypercholesterolemia with well-preserved hepatic function and decreased mortality. Nonetheless, each cumulative year of statin exposure was associated with an independent 8.0%-8.7% decrease of mortality of patients with cirrhosis of Child-Turcotte-Pugh classes A and B.

Keywords: Alcohol; Fatty Liver; Hepatitis; Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / epidemiology*
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Female
  • Heart Failure / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Hypercholesterolemia / blood
  • Hypercholesterolemia / complications*
  • Hypercholesterolemia / drug therapy*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / mortality*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / physiopathology
  • Liver Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardial Infarction / epidemiology
  • Propensity Score
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stroke / epidemiology
  • Survival Rate
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors
  • Cholesterol