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Study backs long-term benefits of statins

TRENTON, N.J. - Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs help prevent heart attacks for at least a decade after people stop taking them, the first long-term study of the world's top-selling type of medication found.

The research follows up on a study in Scotland indicating that men taking the drug Pravachol for five years substantially lowered their risk of heart attack and death from heart disease.

They were followed for another 10 years after most stopped taking the drug. That group was compared with a group of men who were given dummy pills during the five-year study. There was a 25 percent lower risk of heart attack or death from heart disease among those in the statin group, when compared with the placebo group.

The study participants were middle-aged men who had never had a heart attack but who had a very high average level of LDL, or bad cholesterol - 192.

While the study found protection lasted after statin use stopped, the drugs usually are prescribed indefinitely, especially for people with known heart disease. Federal guidelines say these drugs are very safe and may be used by people with LDL levels as low as 130, or even 100 if they are at very high risk of heart attack.

The new results, based on medical records from more than 90 percent of the men in the original experiment, appear in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers wrote that statin's protective effect was probably because existing plaque was stabilized and the progression of coronary artery disease was slowed.

The follow-up study was partly funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., the maker of Pravachol, and Daiichi Sankyo Inc., maker of the statin WelChol.

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