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High doses of statins help unclog arteries

November 15, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • High doses of statins are safe and can halt the progress of heart disease, study shows.
High doses of statins are safe and can halt the progress of heart disease,… (Stephen Sedam / Los Angeles…)

Statins, the popular cholesterol-lowering medications, appear to actually break down some of the blockage in clogged coronary arteries, researchers reported Tuesday.

Doctors gave high doses of rosuvastatin (40 milligrams), atorvastatin or Lipitor (80 mg) to 1,385 people with evidence of heart disease and used ultrasound to measure the amount of plaque in their arteries. This was the largest study ever using this method to assess heart disease progression or recession. The patients were followed for two years.

Researchers, led by Dr. Stephen J. Nicholls of the Cleveland Clinic Coordinating Center for Clinical Research in Ohio, showed that plaque volume fell almost 1% in the atorvastatin group and 1.2% in the rosuvastatin group.

Previous studies showed high does of rosuvastatin (also known as Crestor) raises HDL, or good, cholesterol but that atorvastatin (also known as Lipitor) had no effect on good cholesterol. In the new study, the average LDL cholesterol levels were similar in the two groups of patients and the difference in HDL levels was less than seen in previous studies, although the people on rosuvastatin had higher HDL.

Participants also had fewer heart attacks, strokes or angioplasty procedures than the rates typically seen in people on lower doses of statins. Nicholls said the high doses given to patients appeared safe and were well-tolerated.

"Doctors have been reluctant to use high doses of statins, but in this study the drugs were safe, well-tolerated and had a profound impact on lipid levels, the amount of plaque in vessel walls and the number of cardiovascular events," said Nicholls in a news release.

The study was presented at the American Heart Assn. Scientific Sessions annual meeting and published online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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