LONDON -- New research indicates that kidney transplant patients could reduce their risk of heart attacks by about a third by taking popular cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Experts say the study, published today on the Web site of The Lancet medical journal, provides important evidence that statin drugs can improve the health of kidney transplant patients, who are often vulnerable to heart trouble.
A total of 1,788 kidney transplant patients completed the international study led by scientists at the National Hospital in Oslo, Norway. About half were given the statin drug fluvastatin, or Lescol, and the other half got a fake pill.
After five years, there were 70 heart attacks in the statin group, compared with 104 among those taking the placebos.
The risk of a fatal heart attack was 38 percent lower among those taking the drug, compared with those taking the dummy pill, while the risk of a nonlethal heart attack was 32 percent lower in the group taking the statin.
Dr. Jules Puschett, an American Heart Association spokesman, said the findings weren't surprising because many doctors already prescribe statins to kidney transplant patients based on evidence of the drugs' benefits in other types of patients vulnerable to heart trouble.
However, "any evidence that we can marshal in favor of what we're doing is always helpful," he said.
"The issue of the problems that these patients encounter, even if they have a very well-functioning transplant, has now come to the fore and it's about time that we have paid attention to that," said Puschett, chair of the Department of Medicine at Tulane University, who was not connected with the study.
Kidney transplant patients face an increased risk of premature cardiovascular disease; many of them have heart disease at the time of their transplants. Immune system suppressing drugs -- necessary to prevent the body rejecting the transplant -- may aggravate existing heart disease risk factors such as high cholesterol or promote their development.
Previous research has shown that statins can reduce the risk of heart trouble in a broad range of people, including those with normal cholesterol levels and people with mild kidney failure.
"This new multi-center study shows yet another patient group that will benefit from statins," said Sir Charles George, medical director for the British Heart Foundation, also not connected with the research. "This study shows that some kidney patients can ... benefit from a statin and reduce their risks from coronary heart disease, without dangerous side effects."
On the Net:
The Lancet: http://www.thelancet.com