Dutch research indicates statins help after angioplasty

Angioplasty patients may survive longer, with fewer recurring heart problems, if they start taking cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins soon after the procedure, Dutch research suggests.

Benefits were found even in patients with normal cholesterol levels who took fluvastatin, sold in the United States under the brand name Lescol. The research was funded and coordinated by Novartis Pharma AG, which makes Lescol.

The study bolsters previous research on the heart benefits of early statin use. But this study followed patients for longer and found the effects can last at least four years.

Patients who started taking 80 milligrams of Lescol within about two days of their angioplasties reduced their risk of fatal and nonfatal major heart problems such as heart attacks by 22 percent. Heart problems developed in 21.4 percent of the Lescol group, compared with 26.7 percent of patients given dummy pills.

Millions of Americans take statins every day to lower their cholesterol. Other brand-name statins include Lipitor, Zocor, Pravachol and Mevacor.

The findings were published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Angioplasties involve threading a thin balloon-tipped catheter into clogged arteries and inflating the balloon to clear a blockage.

Doctors frequently insert a mesh tube called a stent to keep the arteries propped open.

Balloon angioplasty with or without stenting is a common procedure, with more than 1 million performed in the United States alone last year. Most patients gain immediate relief from chest pain, but a significant portion develop serious heart problems within 10 years.

The study involved 1,677 patients who underwent angioplasties with or without stenting in Europe, Canada and Brazil. Patients had average cholesterol levels of about 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood, which is considered normal.

Patients given statins were less likely to need additional artery-clearing measures such as bypass surgery. The benefits were found even in diabetics, who face a particularly high risk of recurring heart trouble.