A recent worldwide study showed that cholesterol-lowering drugs significantly reduce their risk of heart disease in healthy men and women with good cholesterol levels. Millions of Americans take these drugs, better known as statins, to control high cholesterol levels. This is the first study to show their effect on people with good cholesterol counts. The results may have a profound influence on preventive treatments for heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases. Dr. Morton Kern, associate chief of cardiology at UC Irvine Medical Center, discusses the impact of this study.
Q: What do the results of this study mean to people who don’t take statins and have their cholesterol under control?
A: Study patients with normal or controlled cholesterol benefited by taking the statin drug Rosuvastatin when the measurement of an inflammatory marker in their blood called C-reactive protein was over 2 milligrams per liter. This protein indicates inflammation in the body and is linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, the No. 1 killer of men and women in the U.S. Patients tested had fewer deaths, strokes and myocardial infarctions than those in the study who didn’t take statins.
Q: What about the millions of people who take statins already for high cholesterol?
A: These people are receiving the benefits of lower cardiac events by continuing their statin use and treating their associated coronary artery disease risk factors. The study results expand the groups of patients who will likely benefit from statins.
Q: What will you be recommending to your patients?
A: Those with coronary artery disease risk will have their CRP measured, and if it is over 2 milligrams per liter, we will suggest that Rosuvastatin may be beneficial.
Q: What are the side effects of taking statins? Are they worth it for a person with a good cholesterol level?
A: These drugs can cause muscle aches and, in rare individuals, increase the potential for diabetes. Those with normal cholesterol and no other coronary artery disease risks will likely not benefit.
Q: In this study, how did doctors determine that statin use reduced heart attack risk?
A: The study randomly divided 17,802 patients into two groups – one group received a daily dose of 20 milligrams of Rosuvastatin; the other group received a placebo. After two years, the heart attack rates were statistically lower in the treatment group, and the study was stopped once the benefit of statin treatment was shown.
Q: Where can people learn more about good heart health?
A: The Internet has several excellent sites for information regarding heart disease and good health – start with the American Heart Association or American College of Cardiology. UC Irvine Medical Center has several of the best cardiologists in the country, with experts in preventive cardiology, lipid management, heart attack management and heart failure treatment. Our cardiologists screen with CT scanning, stress-test imaging and other tests for coronary artery disease and other factors for patients at risk for heart attacks.