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New Cholesterol Drug Reduced Heart Attack Risk, Study Finds

Update Date: Nov 18, 2014 04:44 PM EST
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A new cholesterol drug was effective at reducing patients' risk of heart attacks and strokes, a new study reported.

In this study, researchers headed by Dr. Christopher Cannon, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a professor at Harvard Medical School, examined the effectiveness of Vytorin, a combination drug that mixes simvastatin, which is a cholesterol-lowering drug with ezetimibe, a non-statin drug. Vytorin was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004, but no studies have concluded whether or not the drug can effectively prevent heart attacks and strokes.

For this study titled IMPROVE-IT, the team examined medical data on more than 18,000 patients who were enrolled in around 1,200 centers from 39 countries. The patients were aged 50 or older and had clogged arteries. They were monitored for about six years. The researchers compared the effectiveness of Vytorin to Zocor, which is the brand name for simvastatin.

Overall, the combination drug helped lower patients' cholesterol levels to less than 54 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood. Their combined risk of subsequent heart attack, stroke, heart-related death and hospitalization due to heart complications fell by 6.4 percent. The patients' risk of heart attacks and nonfatal stroke declined by 14 percent. For patients who took Zocor, their cholesterol levels fell to about 69 mg/dL.

Despite the reduced risks in patients who took Vytorin, the researchers found that the overall death rates in both groups were pretty much the same.

"There is a lot of evidence that demonstrates that low cholesterol is better, and our findings suggest that even lower is even better," Cannon said.

"Our findings suggest that, among this population of patients, we may want to consider changes to our clinical guidelines, which might include an LDL cholesterol target of closer to 55, or lower," Dr. Eugene Braunwald, co-study chair and founding chairman of the TIMI Study Group at Brigham and Women's Hospital, added in a hospital news release reported by Philly.

The study was presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2014.

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