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Health Highlights: May 6, 2013

Pfizer Offers Viagra Online; FDA Criticized for OK'ing Combo Cholesterol Pill; Veterans at Higher Risk for Traffic Crashes

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Merck's new drug combines the generically available ingredient (atorvastatin) in Pfizer's Lipitor with Merck's Zetia (ezetimibe). While Zetia does lower "bad" LDL cholesterol linked with heart attacks and strokes, it is no more effective than drugs such as Lipitor, Crestor, or simvastatin, according to Forbes.com.

Unlike those other medicines, there is no evidence that Zetia prevents heart attacks or strokes, and there is no proof that Liptruzet prevents heart attacks, strokes or other cardiovascular events better than atorvastatin alone, according to Forbes.com.

A 2008 study failed to show that the combination of Zetia and simvastatin prevented artery hardening better than simvastatin alone.

A large study comparing the Zetia/simvastatin combination to simvastatin alone for preventing heart attacks, strokes and deaths is not due to be completed until late 2014 and many experts expected that the FDA would not consider approval of Liptruzet until the study was completed, Forbes.com reported.

Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic and a longtime critic of Zetia, blasted the FDA's approval of Liptruzet.

"I find it astonishing that after all the controversy about ezetimibe the FDA would approve another combination product with a drug that has been on the market for a decade and has not been shown to improve cardiovascular outcomes," he told Forbes.com.

"It seems like the agency is just tone deaf to the concerns raised by many members of the community about approving drugs with surrogate endpoints like cholesterol without evidence of a benefit for the disease we are truly trying to treat -- cardiovascular disease," he said.

Nissen said the drugs can be prescribed separately if doctors want patients to have both of them. But due to the FDA's approval of the combination pill Liptruzet, it may be discovered that Zetia really doesn't prevent heart problems only after the medicine has become even more widely used.

Merck spokeswoman Pamela Eisele told Forbes.com that the company is "confident in ezetimibe and in the established relationship between lowering LDL cholesterol and reducing cardiovascular events."

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Veterans at Higher Risk for Traffic Crashes

U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have left military service have a 75 percent higher rate of fatal traffic crashes than civilians, according to The Washington Post.

It also said that veterans who have done multiple tours to combat zones are at highest risk for traffic crashes and that troops still in uniform are more likely to have traffic crashes in the months immediately after returning from deployment than in the months immediately before.

One explanation for the findings is that soldiers continue with driving habits that could prove lifesaving in war zones but are dangerous on America's roads. These behaviors include straddling lanes, racing through intersections, swerving on bridges and not wearing seat belts because they slow escape from the vehicle, The Post reported.

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Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

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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