NEW ORLEANS - In results from an eagerly anticipated study that could greatly 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 attack and stroke in seemingly healthy patients as well.
The study of nearly 18,000 people with normal cholesterol found that the drugs lowered the risk of death from heart disease by 20 percent, suggesting that millions more people should be put on a daily regimen. The new treatment could prevent 50,000 heart attacks, strokes and deaths each year, experts said.
The effects were so beneficial that the planned four-year study was halted after less than two years, researchers said yesterday at a New Orleans meeting of the American Heart Association.
The study, led by Dr. Paul Ridker of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, was published online yesterday by The New England Journal of Medicine. The study focused on the drug rosuvastatin, sold as Crestor by drugmaker AstraZeneca, which funded the research.
"We reduced the risk of a heart attack by 54 percent, the risk of a stroke by 48 percent and the chance of needing bypass surgery or angioplasty by 46 percent," Ridker said.
Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said new guidelines for treatment and prevention of heart disease would likely call for giving a wide range of healthy people a blood test for a compound called C-reactive protein, which indicates arterial inflammation that can be treated with statins.