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Cholesterol Lowering Drugs Stall Disease Progression In People With Below-Average Blood Cholesterol Level

DALLAS, May 12 -- A drug used to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood can prevent atherosclerosis -- even in people with below-average blood cholesterol levels -- according to a report in today's Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Lowering blood cholesterol in people with high levels of this waxy substance reduces the progression of atherosclerosis -- the build-up of fats and biological debris in the tissue lining the inside of blood vessels. New Zealand scientists found that no matter how low a person's cholesterol reading is, lowering his or her cholesterol prevented further development of blood vessel deposits that block blood flow to the heart and cause a heart attack.

"We were able to demonstrate a profound effect on the atherosclerotic disease process," says lead author, Stephen MacMahon, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of Auckland. "These results suggest that cholesterol lowering is likely to reduce atherosclerotic progression in most people with coronary heart disease across a broad range of pretreatment cholesterol levels," Mac Mahon and his colleagues say in their journal report.

Of the 522 people in the study, 273 were assigned to take 40 milligrams daily of a cholesterol-lowering drug called pravastatin and 249 received a placebo (an inert substance). Both groups were put on low-fat diets. Participants' blood cholesterol readings ranged from 155 to 271 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) at the start of the study. Average levels were considered to be about 218 mg/dL; below-average was about 184 mg/dL; and above-average levels were about 253 mg/dL.

Each underwent an ultrasound B scan of one carotid artery, the major artery that feeds blood to the brain, before being randomly assigned to either the drug or placebo-treated group. The scan was repeated two and four years into the study. Ultrasound
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Contact: Carole Bullock
caroleb@amhrt.org
214-706-1279
American Heart Association
11-May-1998


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