Thursday, March 07, 2013

Cholesterol Lowering Drugs Slows Progression of Clogged Arteries

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance found only in animal tissues. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is called "good cholesterol" because it helps prevent cholesterol from building up in the arteries. An artery is a blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart.

Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol is called "bad cholesterol" because together with other substances it can form plaques (hard, thick deposits) in the walls of arteries, leading to blockages. When this happens it is known as atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis can cause damage to large blood vessels, which is a major cause of stroke and coronary artery disease. A stroke is a burst artery (a type of blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart) or a blockage of an artery in the brain. Coronary artery disease is a narrowing of coronary arteries, which supply the heart with blood. The narrowing of coronary arteries causes heart damage.

There are many different types of drugs that lower bad cholesterol levels, the most commonly used of which are known collectively as statins. There is evidence from research studies that randomly assign patients to different treatment groups that statins decrease atherosclerosis but little is known about whether the finding from these studies applies to other settings.

In an upcoming issue in the journal, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, researchers from Norway published the results of a 13-year follow-up study designed to answer this question. Specifically, they took commonly used measures of atherosclerosis in the right carotid artery (an artery in the neck that supplies blood to the brain) in 2965 people (1442 men and 1532 women) via ultrasound scanning. Ultrasound scanning is a procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of internal body structures.

Results of the study showed that long-term use of cholesterol lowering drugs (more than 5 years of use) had a protective effect on the right carotid artery by lowering the total plaque area and decreasing the thickness of the arterial wall. Non-chronic use of cholesterol lowering drugs had a weaker protective effect on these measures.

Suggested reading: Controlling Cholesterol For Dummies

Reference: Herder M, Arntzen KA, Johnsen SH, Eggen AE, Mathiesen EB. (2013, in press). Long-Term Use of Lipid-Lowering Drugs Slows Progression of Carotid Atherosclerosis: The Tromso Study 1994 to 2008. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol.

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