Cholesterol Rx May Be Lifesaver for Diabetes Patients

Statins increased survival rates in diabetes patients at risk for heart disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For those with Type 2 diabetes, heart disease is a major cause of death. Cholesterol-cutting statins, however, may help fight heart disease and prolong lives.

People with diabetes are more likely to have unhealthy cholesterol levels, which contribute to cardiovascular disease. High levels of “bad” cholesterol can stick to artery walls and eventually narrow or block them — a condition called atherosclerosis.

Recently, researchers observed that Type 2 diabetes patients with a high risk of cardiovascular disease may lower their risk of dying by taking statins, medications that lower bad cholesterol levels and raise good cholesterol levels.

"Learn how statins may help prevent diabetes-related heart problems."

Don Bowden, PhD, professor of biochemistry with the Center for Diabetes Research at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, and colleagues reviewed information on 371 individuals who had participated in an investigation called the Diabetes Heart Study.

In addition to having Type 2 diabetes, the patients all had coronary artery calcium scores greater than 1,000, which indicated an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease.

Researchers looked for evidence of plaque buildup using coronary calcium scans. Plaques are buildups of inflammatory cells, cholesterol, and calcium which stick to the inside of coronary artery walls and can narrow them.

During an average 8.2 years of follow-up, 153 patients died, but about 60 percent (218) continued to live more than eight years. The only modifiable risk factor that scientists could identify among these patients who had a high level of calcification was the use of statins.

Those who were taking statins at the beginning of the study had a 50 percent increase in survival compared to those who did not take the medication.

Dr. Bowden said that the results underscore the importance of prescribing cholesterol-lowering medications for Type 2 diabetes patients who have a high risk of cardiovascular disease.

Commonly used statins are atorvastatin (brand name Lipitor), fluvastatin (brand name Lescol), lovastatin (brand name Mevacor), pravastatin (brand name Pravachol), rosuvastatin calcium (brand name Crestor) and simvastatin (brand name Zocor).

Sarah Samaan, MD, cardiologist and physician partner at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, TX, told dailyRx News statins can reduce the risk of heart disease in some diabetes patients.

“Having diabetes triples the risk for a heart attack, but many people with the condition are not aware of this," she said. "This high risk is why statins are often recommended for people with diabetes. Although some people may experience side effects, most people do not, and the side effects will generally resolve quickly after the drug is stopped.”

The study was published online in July in Diabetes Care. The National Institutes of Health provided funding. The study authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 24, 2014
Last Updated:
July 25, 2014