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Winter 2009

Research Finds Statins Can Cut Risk of Heart Disease


Research has found that a class of drugs used to treat high cholesterol can be effective in dramatically reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke among the millions of older people with normal or low cholesterol who show evidence of inflammation on a basic blood test.

“The study indicates that there are quite a few patients over 50 years old without high cholesterol levels who are still at risk for heart disease and can benefit from cholesterol treatment,” says Benjamin Ansell, M.D., co-director of the UCLA Cholesterol, Hypertension and Atherosclerosis Management Program. “That’s particularly important because most patients who have a heart attack or stroke don’t have high cholesterol levels.”

Statins are a class of prescription drugs that lower the level of cholesterol in the blood by reducing cholesterol production in the liver. The research, which was released in November at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association and published online in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved some 18,000 people worldwide — men 50 years and older and women 60 years and older — who did not have high cholesterol or histories of heart disease. The subjects in the study did, however, have high levels of a compound called C-reactive protein (CRP), which indicated inflammation in the body. The study found that the risk of heart attack was almost cut in half for people who took statins.

Thus, a simple blood test for CRP levels may identify patients who don’t have other standard risk factors, doctors say. “Certainly, the results of this study will likely alter the standard approach to treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease,” says Michael Mazar, M.D., a cardiologist at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica. “Right now it is not commonplace to measure CRP in our patients. It remains to be determined who should have their CRP checked and how extensively the results of this study should be applied into practice.”

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