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Popular Drugs Called Statins Not Just for Cholesterol Anymore

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

June 14, 2001 -- Statin drugs are famed for their ability to save lives by lowering cholesterol and preventing heart attacks and strokes. A new study suggests that these medications may prevent yet another life threatening condition: deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.

DVT is a condition in which a blood clot forms in a large vein deep within the body, usually in the leg. It is life threatening when the clot breaks off and travels through the circulatory system to lodge in the heart, lungs, or brain, cutting off the blood supply to these vital organs. Most often, DVT occurs after an injury, surgery, or a long time without moving. However, some people can develop DVT for no apparent reason.

Study author Joel G. Ray, MD, FRCPC, MSc, says that statins appear to help prevent heart attacks and stroke by improving the functioning and overall health of the tissue that lines the blood vessels. This action could also be responsible for preventing DVTs because material in the blood is less likely to stick to the walls of healthy blood vessels than damaged or diseased ones.

Ray, who is an associate professor of medicine at Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, and colleagues looked at eight years' worth of health data for almost 80,000 people aged 65 or older living in Ontario. Those taking statin drugs were 22% less likely to develop DVT. This research is published in the June 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Experts Jeffrey Olin, DO, FACP, FACC, director of the Heart and Vascular Institute in Morristown, N.J., and Jacques Genest, MD, professor of medicine at McGill University and director of the division of cardiology at the McGill University Health Center in Montreal, agree with Ray that the effect that statins have on blood vessels might help prevent DVTs. However, they feel that additional research must be conducted to prove the association before doctors should start trying to prevent DVTs with statins.

"From my interpretation of this study," says Olin, "I don't know that I would go out and put someone on a statin for the purpose of preventing a DVT. But I do agree with the authors that this preliminary data would be very useful to now do a [forward-looking clinical] trial to really see if statins are effective for preventing [DVT]."

Genest also says that doctors should not start prescribing statins for preventing DVT until more research is done.

Fortunately, Ray and his colleagues are planning a forward-looking clinical trial. They believe that using statins to prevent DVT is probably most likely to be helpful in people who have had a DVT in the past and need to take something to prevent it occurring again.

Normally, says Ray, people who develop a DVT out of the blue are treated with a "blood-thinning" drug. Such drugs must be stopped after a few months, however, because they increase the risk of bleeding heavily, even life threateningly, from a relatively mild injury, like a knock on the head. Ray and colleagues are designing a study to see whether taking statins after being on a blood-thinning drug for a few months helps prevent another DVT from occurring without increasing the risk of severe bleeding.

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