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Heart Attack Patients Should Start Statin Drugs Before Leaving Hospital

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Stenestrand says that he and other heart experts don't know exactly why early treatment is better than waiting a month or two after a heart attack before starting the drug, but he has a theory. He thinks that giving the statin right away helps to "stabilize the plaque inside the arteries," he tells WebMD.

Plaque is the hard, waxy material that builds up inside arteries. It can cause heart attacks by blocking blood flow or by breaking off in large pieces that then develop into clots, which also shut down blood supply. Statins lower cholesterol -- especially LDL, the so-called "bad" cholesterol, which is the major component of arterial plaque. They also may improve the functioning of the tissue that lines the arteries. Thus, statins act to help heal the arteries and protect the heart. The sooner that protective process begins, the better for the heart, Stenestrand says.

Stenestrand also says that he thinks this early statin approach works on patients of any age. In his study, he says, he only included data on patients "who were younger than 80 because, at the time the data were collected, only about 4% of the patients 80 or older were taking statins. The numbers were too small to be significant, but I can tell you that the trend is the same: They do better."

Finally, Stenestrand tells WebMD that he was unaware of the coincidental timing of his statin study with the other "good news" statin study released this week. But, he says, "I think our study fits in with the other [one]. For example, patients [in our study] who had diabetes who were taking a statin on discharge had an even greater survival advantage."

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