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Drug Promises Heart Disease

Posted by on Wednesday, February 2, 2011, 1:13
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Heart attacks and strokes could be cut by at least a third by tripling the number of patients on cholesterol-lowering drugs, according to research published today. Expanding the simple treatment could save the lives of 10,000 Britons a year, say the authors of a study which one expert called the most important in treating and preventing the conditions for a generation.

Drug Promises Heart Disease

Drug Promises Heart Disease

The scientists who monitored the progress over five years of more than 20,500 Britons with heart or arterial disease or diabetes believe they have overturned conventional thinking about managing high-risk patients.

Heart specialists called on GPs to ignore the rule books and begin administering the £1-a-day drugs to more patients immediately, while the government and its advisory bodies rewrite their guidance. They argued that the cost of 3 million people in this country being given the drug instead of the present 1 million would be made up by savings in coping with the health, economic and social consequences of treating not only heart and stroke patients but also those with diabetes who run high risks of complications through narrowed arteries. The costs of the treatment should quickly reduce as drugs came out of patent so that cheaper generic alternatives could be used.

The results of the study, which involved a cholesterol lowering drug known as a statin, are published in the Lancet medical journal and are considered at least as important as those which proved aspirin to be a vital weapon against heart disease. The protective effect comes on top of that offered by the painkiller and by drugs that lower blood pressure and heart rate. Taking all in combination and abstaining from or quitting smoking might reduce the risk faced by high-risk patients by as much as 80%.

At present, statins are mainly given to middle-aged men who have high cholesterol levels and have suffered heart problems or are at risk of them. But the new evidence demonstrates that they work in women, are just as effective in older people and improve the chances of people who have relatively low cholesterol. And they improve life chances in conditions other than heart disease.

The £21m study, using patients from 69 hospitals, was funded mainly by the medical research council and the British Heart Foundation. Half the patients, aged 40 to 80, were given 40mg of a statin called simvastin each day. The others were given a dummy alternative.

Five years of treatment typically prevented major vascular “events” in 100 of every 1,000 people who had previously had a heart attack, 80 of every 1,000 with angina or other evidence of heart disease, and 70 in every 1,000 who had previously had a stroke. Similar results were obtained in patients with obstructed arteries and in those with diabetes.

Rory Collins, the lead investigator from Oxford University’s clinical trial service unit, said: “These new findings are relevant to the treatment of some hundreds of millions of people worldwide.”

Many thousands more lives would be saved and others would escape non-fatal heart attacks and strokes.

Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet said: “These findings should tear up the rule-book on statin prescribing … They should result in a dramatic change in clinical practice around the world. Previously there has been concern that statins have been used too much; after the results of this study have been published there should be concern that they may not be used enough in future.”

The Department of Health said it would examine the new information. Its national framework for coronary disease already recommended statins for most of the patients identified by the study but “full implementation will take time”.

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