"A large percentage of elderly people suffer from excess calcium in their aortic valve. Excessive calicum buildup can prevent the valve from opening normally. Because we currently have no way to treat them with medicine, heart surgery to replace the valve is the only solution when the buildup is severe. But it may well be that the use of statins could slow or inhibit development of the problem," says Dr. Kevin OBrien, an associate professor of medicine in the UW School of Medicines Division of Cardiology.
OBriens co-authors of the research letter include Drs. David Shavelle and Xue-Qiao Zhao, also from the UW Division of Cardology, and Drs. Junichero Takasu, Matthew J. Budoff and SongShou Mao, all of the Harbor-UCLA Research and Education Institute of Torrance, Calif.
It is already well known that statins cause improvement in arterial blockage and reduce the occurrence of major cardiovascular events. The question examined in the Lancet paper is whether they can help prevent aortic valvular sclerosis, which is thickening and calcification of the aortic valve. People with this condition are at higher risk for cardiovascular events and may eventually require surgery to replace the valve.
OBrien and colleagues looked at the records of 65 people who had undergone two electron beam computed tomography scans an average of two years apart. Of the group, 28 had been taking statins. People on statins had a 62 percent lower median rate of calcium accumulation.
The researchers say that because of study limitations, it is too early to recommend that people take statins to protect themselves from aortic valve calcium. However, larger studies of the question would be a good idea, OBrien said.