August 27, 2008 / 8:37 PM / 11 years ago

Keep taking statins after heart attack: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - People who are tempted to quit taking their statin medication because it failed to prevent a heart attack should think twice, Canadian researchers said on Wednesday.

They said heart attack survivors who stopped taking the cholesterol-lowering drugs were more likely to die during the following year than those who had never been on the drugs.

The findings, published in the European Heart Journal, underscore the effectiveness of the drugs, which not only reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein or LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, but may also reduce inflammation.

Dr. Stella Daskalopoulou and colleagues at McGill University studied data on British patients who had survived a heart attack and were still alive three months later.

“Patients who used statins before an AMI (heart attack) and continued to take them after were 16 percent less likely to die over the next year than those who never used them,” Daskalopoulou said in a statement.

“So even if it appears that the statins failed to prevent your (heart attack), it is beneficial to continue taking them and potentially quite harmful to stop,” she said.

The researchers found that about 30 percent of patients who are prescribed a statin stop taking it within the first year.

“Because statins are preventative drugs, patients may not feel the immediate benefit of taking them and sometimes stop. However, it looks like this might be quite a dangerous practice after an AMI,” she said.

Statins, the world’s top-selling drugs, are highly effective at cutting the risk of heart attack and stroke, but they also have other benefits, such as lowering the risk of death from influenza, pneumonia and the effects of smoking.

Daskalopoulou said it is not clear why those who continued taking their statins fared better.

“Regardless of the mechanism or explanation, physicians should be careful when assessing each patient’s medication needs,” Dr. Daskalopoulou said.

Statins include atorvastatin, made by Pfizer under the brand name Lipitor; pravastatin or Pravachol, made by Bristol Myers Squibb; fluvastatin, made by Novartis under the brand name Lescol, and several others.

Reporting by Julie Stenhuysen; Editing by Will Dunham and Eric Walsh

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