Thickening of arterial walls is a precursor to the buildup of plaque, called atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
"We looked at the effect of this very powerful statin and showed it halted, or arrested, the progression of thickening of carotid arteries in low-risk patients," says researcher John R. Crouse III, MD, of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. "There was even regression in one of the three segments of the neck arteries studied," he tells WebMD.
The study, released at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology (ACC), was simultaneously published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Crouse says the findings add to evidence that Crestor may be a more powerful drug for modifying heart disease risk than other statins.
"If you look at the history of other statins, this is the most powerful drug for lowering LDL and it also has these additional attractive qualities of raising HDL and halting the atherosclerotic process," he says.
ACC President Stephen Nissen, M.D., chief of cardiovascular medicine at The Cleveland Clinic, says doctors now would not prescribe Crestor to low-risk people with normal cholesterol and "one study doesn't change that." However, he adds, "there may be people who are very early in the process of developing heart disease who could benefit. Now we have to figure out who they are."
Additionally, the findings "raise the question of whether we should be screening low-risk people to see if they have thickening of the artery walls," Crouse says.
Crestor is already approved for improving cholesterol levels. Manufacturer AstraZeneca, which funded the new study, has submitted an application to the FDA to expand its use to include prevention of atherosclerosis, according to a company spokesperson.
The application is supported by both the new study and findings reported at last year's ACC meeting. Those findings showed that Crestor partially reversed the buildup of plaque in coronary arteries in people with signs of heart disease and at higher risk for future heart attacks and strokes.
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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