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A deep breath and a closer look at statins

November 24, 2008 | 10:17 am

In a healthy heart, shown here in an angiogram, blood flows freely.

The dust is settling in the wake of the newest heralded study about statins, with doctors and patients alike now taking stock of what the results should mean in real life.

To recap, from the L.A. Times: Statins may benefit healthy people too

"In results from an eagerly anticipated study that could dramatically change the treatment of cardiovascular disease, researchers have found that statin drugs -- now given to millions of people with high cholesterol -- can halve the risk of heart attacks and stroke in seemingly healthy patients as well."

The results, promising and provocative as they were, received much media attention. But, as with most headline-fodder topics, they've also led to questions:

From NPR's "Talk of the Nation": Should healthy people take statins?

"A study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the drug Crestor, typically used for reducing cholesterol levels, may reduce the risk of heart disease for people with normal cholesterol levels. But do the potential benefits offset the risks and cost of the drugs?" A discussion with Dr. Paul Ridker of Harvard Medical School and Dr. Mark Hlatky of Stanford University.

From the New York Times' Tara Parker-Pope: A call for caution in the rush to statins

"Is it time to put cholesterol-lowering statin drugs in every medicine cabinet? Judging by recent headlines, you might think so."

From Toronto's Globe and Mail: When it comes to statins, don't believe the hype

"The principal finding in this study was that participants who took a statin pill recorded a 50 percent reduction in the risk of heart attack, stroke, surgery and death compared with those who took a placebo (a sugar pill). Who wouldn't be wowed by those numbers? Who wouldn't want that miracle drug? But the benefits are relative risk reductions."

And from the Consumer Reports' blogs: Heart-attack prevention: Statins aren't for everybody

Says Dr. Marvin Lipman in response to his patients' question "Should I immediately start taking a statin?" "Probably not, at least based on this study."

The L.A. Times Health section will offer a closer look at statins and cholesterol in the coming weeks, but for now, these logical questions and measured responses are worth a read or, in the case of NPR, a listen.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: In a healthy heart, shown here in an angiogram, blood flows freely. But cholesterol can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, impeding blood flow. That's where cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins come in. Credit: Custom Medical Stock Photo