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More People are Using Heart Medications for Prevention

Aired May 20, 2001 - 10:15   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A new study this week on blood cholesterol levels suggests that many more people may soon be taking cholesterol-lowering medication.

Medical correspondent Rea Blakey has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REA BLAKEY, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cardiologist Stuart Seides shows no signs of heart disease. And though his cholesterol and blood pressure are normal, he still takes cholesterol- lowering medication. Why? Because he does have a family history of heart disease, a risk factor the American Heart Association says should be addressed, even before symptoms appear.

DR. DAVID MEYERSON, AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION: We can now begin to identify people who, in 10 years or 15 years, will develop heart disease. Those people, we want to make their course correction early.

BLAKEY: Like Dr. Seides, millions of people with no clinical symptoms of heart disease may soon be taking cholesterol-lowing drugs. Research shows a class of drugs called statins not only lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation and prevent heart attacks, the widely prescribed drugs also reduce strokes and help prevent death in the event of a stroke or a heart attack.

MEYERSON: This is truly preventable disease. There are 100 million people in the United States with high cholesterol. There are at least 40 million people with levels that are very dangerously high.

BLAKEY: Many cardiologists are already putting diabetics on statin drugs, treating them as if they have heart disease.

DR. STUART SEIDES, CARDIOLOGIST: We find that a diabetic patient who has not had any clinical heart trouble is at the same risk of having a heart attack as a nondiabetic who's already had one.

BLAKEY: There are six statin drugs currently on the market: Mevacor, Lescol, Pravochol, Zocor, Lipitor, and Baycol. After almost 20 years of widespread usage, the incidence of adverse side effects is relatively low.

About 5 percent suffer liver or muscle toxicity. Heart disease experts believe the drugs can be safely prescribed to even more people at risk of heart disease, including those who may not develop symptoms for years to come.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: So, how might this new study effect some American's cholesterol-clogged lifestyles?

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: For some insight, we turn to Rita Rubin, a medical reporter for "USA Today." She joins us from Washington. Hi, Rita.

RITA RUBIN, MEDICAL REPORTER, "USA TODAY": Good morning.

PHILLIPS: So, we're reading, is it true that heart disease is still the number one killer at this time?

RUBIN: Oh, absolutely. It's number one for both men and women.

PHILLIPS: Alright, so let's talk about these new guidelines and what they are intended to do.

RUBIN: Well, these are the first new government guidelines since 1993, and they're really getting touch on cholesterol. I think everybody knows that, you know, below 200 for total cholesterol is desirable, but what not everybody knows is that some people below 200 can have a heart attack while some people above 200 may be fine. It has to do with some of their different types of cholesterol.

O'BRIEN: Rita, this issue of the drugs and the usage of the cholesterol-lowering drugs. It seems to me we live in a society that is perhaps a bit overmedicated as it is, many people seeking solutions for their problems in a pill. In a way, is this a bad message to send out to people who are, you know, addicted to Krispy Kremes.

RUBIN: A really strong part of these guidelines is the recommendation that people try to lower their cholesterol with diet and exercise and weight loss first. That's a really strong message in these guidelines. In fact, the guidelines even state that making those lifestyle changes can have a bigger impact than previously thought on cholesterol levels.

But, you know, if you try that for three months or so and your cholesterol level, especially your LDL, this so-called "bad" or artery-clogging cholesterol, if you can't get that level to your desired goal, then you might have to go on medication.

PHILLIPS: How often do we need to get checked? I mean, right now, should Miles and I go to the doctor tomorrow, you know? How do you know how often to check?

RUBIN: You know, if you haven't had your cholesterol checked in the last five years, you should go in soon. The recommendations say that all adults, 20 years and older, should have a complete lipid protein profile every five years. So, we're not talking just about a finger stick, you know, they tell you what your total cholesterol is. But this is a fasting blood test to reveal your, not only your total cholesterol, but your LDL and your HDL, which is the so-called "good" cholesterol. And also your triglyceride levels, because all of those components have an impact on your heart disease risk.

O'BRIEN: Is this a problem, Rita, that is more a behavioral issue or is there some genetic root in this as well? I mean, does it run in families?

RUBIN: Oh, absolutely. You know, there are some people who are skinny as a rail, they exercise, they have good blood pressure and, you know, their father may have had a heart attack at age 50. That puts them at a higher risk of having heart disease themselves, and there's a big change the reason their father had a heart attack at that age, if he also didn't have any other obvious risk factors, was because he had undesirable cholesterol levels.

PHILLIPS: What about age?

RUBIN: Oh, well, the older you get, the greater your risk of having a heart attack. So, cholesterol levels don't necessarily have to increase as you get older. But, you know, if you're, say, a 22- year-old and you have high cholesterol, you do have the advantage of time. You can start working on it now to get it down before you're a middle-aged person with heart disease.

PHILLIPS: So, Miles should stop eating those egg, cheese, and sausage sandwiches?

RUBIN: Probably...

O'BRIEN: Oh, really? Should I? Should I?

PHILLIPS: Well, it depends, I mean, if you have low cholesterol.

RUBIN: Depends on your cholesterol level.

O'BRIEN: Alright Rita Rubin, thank you very much for being with us. Rita writes about health issues for "USA Today."

RUBIN: My pleasure.

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