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Study: Drug Therapy May Reduce Blood Clots in Patients with Heart Disease (dateline January 24, 2010)

New research suggests that statins, a class of drugs used to treat high cholesterol, may reduce the incidence of blood clots in patients with cardiovascular disease. A recent study found that patients with atherosclerosis (narrowing of the blood vessels due to fatty build up) who took statins significantly reduced their risk of blood clots compared to patients who did not take the drugs. The researchers called statins potentially life saving for patients with cardiovascular disease.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein Medical reviewed the cases of 593 patients who were admitted to the hospital for heart attack or stroke. Of the patients, 73 percent were receiving statins, and the overall incidence of blood clots was 13 percent. Their study showed that patients with atherosclerosis receiving statin therapy had a significantly reduced risk of developing venous thromboembolism (VTE)-a collective term for DVT (blood clot) and pulmonary embolism (PE)-than patients not on statin therapy. Furthermore, patients on a higher dose of statins had the least likelihood of developing VTE. The results of the study were presented at CHEST 2009, the 75th annual international scientific assembly of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), in November 2009.

"Research has indicated an association between atherosclerosis and venous thrombosis," said lead author Danai Khemasuwan, MD, Albert Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA, in a CHEST news release. "However, in our study, statin therapy demonstrated a protective effect on this group of patients, reducing their overall incidence of developing VTE."

Specifically, the study found that patients who were not taking statins were three times as likely to develop VTE than those receiving statins, 26.3 percent vs. 8.3 percent, respectively. Even after controlling for factors related to VTE (smoking, history of cancer, and immobilization), the researchers found that statins use was still associated with a low risk of developing VTE. Furthermore, according to the CHEST news release, patients receiving high-dose statins (greater than 40 mg/day) showed a lower occurrence of VTE compared with patients receiving standard dose statins, suggesting a dose-related response between statins and VTE.

CHEST reports that VTE is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs in more than 2 million Americans each year. Patients most at risk for VTE are those with cancer, those who have recently had surgery, and patients who have experience acute trauma. Although the current analysis only included patients with atherosclerosis, previous research by Dr. Khemasuwan showed that statins had a similar effect on patients with cancer. The authors caution that it is still too early to speculate the effect that statins may have on other high-risk groups, like surgical patients.

"Venous thromboembolism leads to significant morbidity, mortality, and hospital costs in Americans each year," said Kalpalatha Guntupalli, MD, FCCP, President of the American College of Chest Physicians, in the CHEST news release. "Although more research is needed, statins may prove effective in helping to reduce the incidence of VTE in specific patient populations."

CHEST 2009 is the 75th annual international scientific assembly of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), held October 31-November 5 in San Diego, CA. The ACCP represents 17,400 members who provide patient care in the areas of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine in the United States and throughout the world. The ACCP's mission is to promote the prevention and treatment of diseases of the chest through leadership, education, research, and communication.

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