August 29, 2005

Statin Drugs Lower Heart Attack Death

WASHINGTON -- Giving a heart attack patient a statin drug right away reduces the chance he or she will die by 50 percent, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

Statin drugs are used to lower cholesterol levels and prevent strokes and heart attacks long-term, but the new study suggests that the drugs might join aspirin as something to give to patients immediately when they suffer a heart attack.

"We've known that long-term statin therapy is beneficial, but this study provides the strongest clinical evidence to date supporting the early cardioprotective effects of statins immediately following a heart attack," said cardiologist Dr. Gregg Fonarow of the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the study.

"As statins are already routinely started in myocardial infarction patients prior to hospital discharge, it would be relatively easy to administer this medication on arrival to the emergency department," Fonarow said in a statement.

Fonarow and colleagues looked at the records of more than 170,000 heart attack patients.

Those given statin drugs before hospitalization and within 24 hours after a heart attack had a 54 percent lower risk of dying in the hospital compared to patients not on statin therapy, they reported in the September issue of the American Journal of Cardiology.

Patients who had not been prescribed statins in the past but were given one within 24 hours of hospitalization were 58 percent less likely to die.

"We were surprised that early statin therapy showed such a striking effect immediately after a heart attack," Fonarow said. "We also found that statins provided additional protection from other heart attack complications as well."

These complications included cardiac arrest, cardiac shock, cardiac rupture and ventricular fibrillation.

Statins lower cholesterol levels but they also affect the linings of the blood vessels. They raise levels of nitric oxide, which in turn may reduce the inflammation associated with heart attacks.

The study was funded by Genentech Inc., which does not currently make a statin drug but which helps support the registry of patients used for the study, and Fonarow has done research for several companies that make statins.