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Anti-cholesterol drugs may help more people

Even patients with low cholesterol may benefit from pravastatin  

From Correspondent Steve Salvatore

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A new study shows patients with plaque build-up in their arteries may benefit from taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, even if their cholesterol levels are not all that high.

The New Zealand study, published in the journal Circulation, finds no matter how low a person's cholesterol level is, lowering it further may be beneficial.

"What this study shows is that in men and women who have average levels of cholesterol and LDL, the bad cholesterol, treatment with pravastatin will block or halt the process of blockage in the carotid arteries," says Dr. Antonio Gotto, dean of Cornell University Medical College.

Cholesterol test
A woman has her cholesterol tested  

Possible new use for prevastatin

Many people with high cholesterol already take drugs such as prevastatin to lower their cholesterol and help prevent heart attack and stroke. High cholesterol is a known risk factor for atherosclerosis -- the build up of plaque inside blood vessels.

Over 500 people with atherosclerosis were enrolled in the study and based on their cholesterol levels were classified as average, above average or below average. Half of them received the cholesterol-lowering drug pravastatin, the other half, a placebo. After four years, scientists found that compared to the placebo group, those taking the drug had:

  • A 19 percent lower level of total cholesterol,
  • A 27 percent lower level of "bad" LDL cholesterol,
  • A 4 percent higher level of "good" HDL cholesterol,
  • A 13 percent lower level of triglycerides, the chemical form of fat in most foods.

All of these things taken together, mean a lower risk of heart disease.

"This decreases the risk of having a heart attack due to protecting the arteries carrying blood to the heart and decreases the risk of having a stroke due to protecting the arteries carrying blood to the brain," says Gotto.

Drugs help reduce plaque build-up

In addition, ultrasound examinations showed those taking the placebo had increased plaque build-up and those taking the cholesterol-lowering drug had decreased plaque build-up.

"Actually, there were indications that they caused a reversal in the buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries." says Gotto.

Doctors say they're not quite ready to prescribe pravastatin to every patient with atherosclerosis, and more research is needed. But the new findings raise questions about how to best treat patients at risk for heart attack, the nation's leading cause of death.


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