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Cholesterol Drugs May Help Asthma Patients

Once again, there is evidence to
suggest that the popular cholesterol -lowering statin drugs are good for more
than just the heart. In a new study, the drugs cut the risk of hospitalization
and emergency room visits in people with asthma by about one-third.

About 22 million American suffer from asthma, which is caused by
inflammation and swelling of the airways. The inflammation, in turn, can cause
excessive mucus production and narrowing of the airways, resulting in asthma
symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.

It makes sense that statins could help relieve asthma, says researcher Eric
J. Stanek, PharmD, of Medco Health Solutions Inc., which manages prescription
benefits for health insurers. In animal studies, the drugs reduced inflammation
in the lungs. And a major study recently suggested that statins slash the risk
of heart attack and stroke in people with normal cholesterol but elevated
levels of C-reactive protein, which has been linked to heart problems.

For the new study, researchers at Medco and Brigham and Women's Hospital in
Boston combed through the medical records of more than 12 million patients in
Medco's database. They identified 6,574 patients who filled their first
prescription for an inhaled corticosteroid, a mainstay of asthma therapy, in
2006. A total of 2,103 of those patients were also taking a statin
drug.

All the patients had been hospitalized or had visited the emergency room for
asthma at least once in the previous 12 months.

Among the patients on statins, 42% were taking Lipitor, 25% were taking
Zocor, and 8% were taking Crestor. The other patients were on Pravachol ,
Mevacor, Lescol, or a combination of drugs.

Over a one-year period, 20.5% of patients taking statins were hospitalized
or visited the ER for asthma vs. 29.4% of those who weren't on statins, a
significant difference.

The dose of statin didn't affect the results, Stanek says. And while the
researchers didn't tease out whether one type of statin drug had more potent
asthma-fighting properties than another, "there's no reason not to
think" that they will all work equally well, he tells WebMD.

The study, which was funded by Medco, was presented at the American Academy
of Asthma and Immunology Annual Meeting.

Nancy Ostrom, MD, co-director of the Allergy and Asthma Medical Group and
Research Center in San Diego, cautions that no one should start taking statins
in an attempt to ward off an asthma attack .

The research "raises interesting questions that need further study,"
she tells WebMD. Ostrom moderated the session at which the findings were
presented.

Stanek says that up to 30% of people with asthma also have high blood
cholesterol or other risk factors for heart disease and stroke that may require
statin therapy.

The new study "provides additional impetus for people with asthma to
undergo a careful assessment of their cardiovascular risks [so that doctors can
prescribe] statin therapy when appropriate," he says.

By Charlene Laino
Reviewed by Louise Chang
©2005-2008 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved

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