Statins – the drugs like Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor, Lescol and others – do more than reduce your cholesterol. Several studies have shown that these drugs protect people with heart disease having major non-heart surgery. The beneficial effect seems to come from anti-inflammation properties common to all statins.
The latest, and perhaps strongest piece of evidence so far comes from a new study in the Netherlands in which patients having vascular (blood vessel) surgery – known to have the highest risk of heart attack after surgery – were given a long-acting statin – fluvastatin – and continued on it after leaving the hospital. The statin cut the rate of heart attack and of myocardial ischemia (angina, or where the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood supply) by about 50%.
The study is named the Dutch Echographic Cardiac Risk Evaluation Applying Stress Echo III (DECREASE III).
No significant, limiting side-effects were reported from use of the drug.
Although enthusiasm for another type of drug – beta blockers – thought to protect the heart after major surgery waned significantly after more evidence came in, this study is well designed and the conclusions more likely to hold up when additional research is published.
What you can do
If you are already on a statin and about to undergo vascular surgery, be sure to continue taking your medication before and after the operation.
If you are already on a statin your doctor should review whether a long-acting formulation like the one used in this study should be substituted if you are likely to be unable to take anything by mouth for more than a day or two.
If you have heart or vascular disease, are not already on a statin, and are about to have major surgery, you should discuss with your doctor whether beginning one of these drugs will help you.