The government has declared the drug Zocor the nation's first anti-cholesterol medicine proven to save the lives of heart disease patients--a decision doctors say should prompt patients to get their cholesterol levels rechecked. "The message to patients today is: If you have heart disease, you need to know your cholesterol level and . . . in most cases, you're going to require a drug" to lower it, said Dr. Suzanne Oparil, past president of the American Heart Assn.
Lowering cholesterol has long been considered a way to stave off heart disease. But doctors were reluctant to prescribe anti-cholesterol drugs for people who had heart problems because the fat's damage to arteries had already been done. Now scientists are accumulating evidence that aggressively fighting cholesterol in these patients saves lives.
The Food and Drug Administration will now allow Merck & Co. to relabel Zocor as the first anti-cholesterol drug that reduces deaths by doing that.
A five-year study of 4,400 coronary patients found that Zocor lowered deaths from heart disease 42% and significantly reduced nonfatal heart attacks and the need for rehospitalization.