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Health Team

Study: Statins may help prevent strokes, heart attacks in 'healthy' patients

Posted November 13, 2008 5:50 p.m. EST
Updated November 13, 2008 7:05 p.m. EST

— A new study featured in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that statin drugs may help prevent strokes and heart attacks even in patients who aren't traditionally high risk.

Studies show 50 percent of heart attack patients don't have any of the traditional risk factors of high cholesterol, diabetes or established heart disease.

Researchers followed almost 18,000 patients with normal cholesterol and no history of heart attack or stroke. The patients did, however, have high blood levels of C-reactive protein (or CRP) – a marker for inflammation in the body.

“We've known for quite some time that heart disease, particularly coronary artery disease, is linked with chronic inflammation,” WakeMed cardiologist Dr. Mark Leithe said. Leithe said statins not only lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, but also helps inflammation.

The study, funded by the maker of the statin Crestor, found the drug lowered heart attacks by 54 percent, strokes by 48 percent and deaths by 20 percent. There was no increase in serious side effects.

Statins are the most-used prescribed drug in the country. The research may lead to about 7 million more Americans being prescribed these drugs at a cost of $9 billion a year.

Leithe said that in the long term, the drugs could save money on hospitalization, stenting procedures and heart bypass surgery.

Lossie Davis, 66, believes the study proves she’s doing the right thing by taking statins.

“It can prevent having a heart attack,” Davis said.

Five years ago, Davis felt unusually dizzy and went to the hospital. She did not have a heart attack, but learned she did have high blood pressure and cholesterol above 200. Since then, she has started an exercise program and takes a statin drug.

Davis said her cholesterol is at least 40 points lower than before.