Comparative effectiveness of statins on non-high density lipoprotein cholesterol in people with diabetes and at risk of cardiovascular disease: systematic review and network meta-analysis

BMJ. 2022 Mar 24;376:e067731. doi: 10.1136/bmj-2021-067731.


Objective: To compare the efficacy of different statin treatments by intensity on levels of non-high density lipoprotein cholesterol (non-HDL-C) for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes.

Design: Systematic review and network meta-analysis.

Data sources: Medline, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and Embase from inception to 1 December 2021.

Review methods: Randomised controlled trials comparing different types and intensities of statins, including placebo, in adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus were included. The primary outcome was changes in levels of non-HDL-C, calculated from measures of total cholesterol and HDL-C. Secondary outcomes were changes in levels of low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and total cholesterol, three point major cardiovascular events (non-fatal stroke, non-fatal myocardial infarction, and death related to cardiovascular disease), and discontinuations because of adverse events. A bayesian network meta-analysis of statin intensity (low, moderate, or high) with random effects evaluated the treatment effect on non-HDL-C by mean differences and 95% credible intervals. Subgroup analysis of patients at greater risk of major cardiovascular events was compared with patients at low or moderate risk. The confidence in network meta-analysis (CINeMA) framework was applied to determine the certainty of evidence.

Results: In 42 randomised controlled trials involving 20 193 adults, 11 698 were included in the meta-analysis. Compared with placebo, the greatest reductions in levels of non-HDL-C were seen with rosuvastatin at high (-2.31 mmol/L, 95% credible interval -3.39 to -1.21) and moderate (-2.27, -3.00 to -1.49) intensities, and simvastatin (-2.26, -2.99 to -1.51) and atorvastatin (-2.20, -2.69 to -1.70) at high intensity. Atorvastatin and simvastatin at any intensity and pravastatin at low intensity were also effective in reducing levels of non-HDL-C. In 4670 patients at greater risk of a major cardiovascular events, atorvastatin at high intensity showed the largest reduction in levels of non-HDL-C (-1.98, -4.16 to 0.26, surface under the cumulative ranking curve 64%). Simvastatin (-1.93, -2.63 to -1.21) and rosuvastatin (-1.76, -2.37 to -1.15) at high intensity were the most effective treatment options for reducing LDL-C. Significant reductions in non-fatal myocardial infarction were found for atorvastatin at moderate intensity compared with placebo (relative risk=0.57, confidence interval 0.43 to 0.76, n=4 studies). No significant differences were found for discontinuations, non-fatal stroke, and cardiovascular deaths.

Conclusions: This network meta-analysis indicated that rosuvastatin, at moderate and high intensity doses, and simvastatin and atorvastatin, at high intensity doses, were most effective at moderately reducing levels of non-HDL-C in patients with diabetes. Given the potential improvement in accuracy in predicting cardiovascular disease when reduction in levels of non-HDL-C is used as the primary target, these findings provide guidance on which statin types and intensities are most effective by reducing non-HDL-C in patients with diabetes.

Systematic review registration: PROSPERO CRD42021258819.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / chemically induced
  • Cholesterol
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / chemically induced
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors* / adverse effects
  • Network Meta-Analysis


  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors
  • Cholesterol