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MRI Scan Reveals How Cholesterol Drugs Work

Imaging Shows Cholesterol-Lowering Statins Shrink Plaque
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July 5, 2005 -- High-tech scans may show how cholesterol-lowering statin drugs work to prevent heart disease.

In a new study, high resolution MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans showed that treatment with statins shrank artery-clogging plaques in people with high cholesterol.

Researchers say those plaque-fighting benefits were in addition to statins' already proven effects of lowering LDL "bad" cholesterol levels in blood.

Atherosclerotic plaque can rupture. A "vulnerable" plaque which ruptures leads to clots that cause heart attacks and strokes. Reducing LDL cholesterol in blood helps reduce the risk of heart disease.

"In the mostly average patients, if you are able to achieve an LDL lower than 100 milligrams per deciliter, you will be able to significantly avoid plaque progression and you may even induce plaque regression," says Juan J. Badimon, PhD, of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, in a news release.

Statins May Shrink Plaques

In the study, which appears in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers followed 51 people recently diagnosed with high cholesterol. On scanned images, all the participants had plaque lesions of the major vessel. They received either 20 milligrams or 80 milligrams of Zocor daily.

After a year and a half of treatment, MRI scans showed that both groups ended up with similar reductions in plaque size, regardless of the strength of their statin dose.

Although this study used MRI to measure the effect of statin treatment on reducing plaque size, researchers say not every person using statins needs to have their arteries scanned.

Reduction in the size of blood vessel wall plaque was greater in people whose LDL cholesterol dropped below 100 mg/dl. Therefore, monitoring LDL cholesterol can also be used to gauge the effectiveness of statin therapy.

In addition, the group that received the higher statin dose experienced a 46% reduction in LDL levels compared with a 36% reduction in LDL among those with the lower dose.

The researchers note that the group assigned to receive the higher dose also had higher LDL levels at the start of the study. However they reached similar absolute reductions in cholesterol.

"The change in blood vessel wall [plaque size] is more related to LDL reduction rather than to the dose of statin," they conclude.

Merck, which makes Zocor, partially funded the study, but researchers conducted the study without any input from those supplying the funds. Merck is a WebMD sponsor.

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Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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