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Statin alternative reduces heart attack risk, Cleveland Clinic study shows

Lipitor, a best-seller as a cholesterol treatment, is being tested as a remedy for the flu.
Mel Evans
There are several statins, including generic versions of the drug, on the market. Most people can take them without side effects, but some experience nausea, dizziness and muscle aches, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Cleveland Clinic researchers have found a cholesterol-lowering drug provides moderate protection against heart attacks and strokes, according to a study published Saturday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It’s good news for the roughly one in five people with high cholesterol and who have been told they should take a statin but can’t tolerate the side effects, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Steven E. Nissen, chief academic officer of the Heart and Vascular Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.

“Statin intolerance is one of the most vexing problems we face in cardiovascular medicine," he said.

Statins are low-cost generic drugs that work well at preventing heart attacks, strokes and death, but in some people, they can cause muscle aches, Nissen said.

The study of 14,000 people showed bempedoic acid reduced levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, by about 20% and the risk of heart attack by 23%.

The study was paid for by the drug’s maker, Esperion Therapeutics, which sells it under the brand name Nexletol.

Nissen said the results mean more doctors are likely to prescribe the drug, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration three years ago.

“Providers, patients and most importantly, payers, you're not going to pay for a drug unless it's shown benefits," he said.

Nissen said he still recommends statins first because they are the most effective at lowering cholesterol levels, but bempedoic acid is an alternative for those who can't tolerate them.

“I think that it will now allow these patients that are so, so troubled by their side effects on statins to get an effective alternative,” he said.

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.
Stephanie is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.