Study: Cholesterol drugs prevent heart attacks, yet seldom used
March 8, 1999
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- Cholesterol-lowering drugs can prevent heart attacks and significantly reduce the risk of heart disease in healthy people, but are rarely prescribed to do just that, researchers said Monday.
Several studies presented at a conference of the American College of Cardiology evaluated a class of cholesterol- lowering drugs know as statins.
Researchers at Cornell University tested the drug lovastatin, made by Merck Co. as Mevecor, on 6,505 men and women who showed no signs of heart disease and had "average" cholesterol levels.
Doctors recommend having levels below 200 for "good" cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol levels should be below 100, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) should measure 35 or above.
The Cornell group had an average LDL of 150 and HDL of 37.
The use of lovastatin also reduced the first incidence of heart attack or chest pain by 37 percent.
"We think the benefit of statin treatment can extend far beyond the group that would be defined by today's guidelines. We would add 16 million additional people," said Dr. Antonio Gotto of Cornell University.
However, another study presented at the conference revealed that cholesterol-lowering medication is not being prescribed as often as it should be.
Research conducted by the University of Michigan Medical Center found that the rate of statin drug use in patients diagnosed with coronary heart disease was only 13 percent.
The study of nearly 250,000 people revealed that white males were most likely to be prescribed statin drugs, more often then minorities and women.
Doctors are responsible for some of the blame, but not all, argued Dr. Richard Pasternak of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
"One reason not to take it is cost. We can't afford to treat everybody in our society," Pasternak said.
He added that most people who don't suffer from heart disease are reluctant to take medication on a daily basis.
Proper diet and exercise can keep high cholesterol at bay, although some studies show that Americans seldom follow the proper regime.
Dr. Rory Collins of Oxford University has begun a study of 20,000 people that suggests statin drugs can be taken with antioxidant vitamin supplements -- such as A, C, and beta carotene -- to lower cholesterol levels.
"What we are trying to do in a nutshell is fill the gaps," Collins said. "It is not clear whether antioxidant vitamins are any good or not, although enormous amounts of money are spent on them, especially in the U.S."
Correspondent Rhonda Rowland and Reuters contributed to this report.
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American College of Cardiology
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