Study surprisingly shows higher doses of cholesterol-lowering drugs may save lives

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Statin drugs prevent new heart problems in heart attack victims and save lives when used in higher doses to drive bad cholesterol down, according to a study that will be published in the April 8 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The study was released at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology Monday.

Doctors compared two drugs in 4,162 people who were treated within 10 days of heart attacks or severe chest pain. They got either 40 milligrams a day of Pravachol or 80 milligrams of Lipitor, the highest approved doses of each drug. The goal of the drugs was to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) below 100 milligrams, the current national guideline.

Pravachol dropped patients' LDL by almost one-quarter, to 95, while Lipitor cut cholesterol in half to 62. After two years, 26% of those getting Pravachol had died or underwent new heart attacks, bypass surgery, rehospitalization for chest pain or strokes. The same happened to 22% of patients on Lipitor.

The study was sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb, the maker of Pravachol. Researchers said the results were particularly surprising because it was intended to show that Pravachol is just as effective as Lipitor, following a study sponsored by Pfizer, Lipitor's maker. That study, published last week in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found Lipitor halted plaque growth while Pravachol slowed but did not stop it.