It’s well known that statins are effective in the treatment of coronary artery disease, but a recent study found that patients with advanced peripheral arterial disease also showed marked benefits from the use of statins, including 50 percent fewer heart attacks and strokes, and significantly lower amputation and death rates.
Narrowed arteries cause leg pain, weakness
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) gradually restricts blood flow to your legs, arms and vital organs. Buildup of cholesterol and plaque narrows arteries throughout your body just as it does in your coronary arteries.
When arteries leading to your legs narrow you can experience claudication, or pain and weakness in your legs, usually in the calves and most often during and following exertion.
Having PAD is associated with an increased risk for coronary artery disease (CAD). Narrowed arteries cause both diseases, so it makes sense that physicians should treat PAD with medications that are used in the management of CAD.
Better outcomes for patients on statins
A study conducted by the University of California Davis and published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at 380 patients who had advanced PAD that impaired blood flow to their limbs.
Of those patients, those who were on statin treatment had 50 percent fewer heart attacks and strokes. Death rate and amputation rates were also halved for statin takers even though those participants had more health challenges at the outset than did those who were not taking statins.
Heather Gornik, MD, cardiologist and Medical Director of the Non-Invasive Vascular Laboratory at Cleveland Clinic, reviewed the results of the study. “This is another study that demonstrates that medical therapy is as important for management of PAD as balloons, stents and surgery,” she said.
Medical treatment for arterial disease commonly includes statins, anticlotting medicine and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs).
Statins help prevent the buildup of cholesterol and plaque in your arteries. Anticlotting medication helps prevent blood clots from forming, and ACE inhibitors and ARBs regulate blood pressure and help manage heart conditions.
Essential treatment for PAD patients
Dr. Gornik stressed that medical therapy is of utmost importance for PAD patients. “All patients with PAD need to be on a statin and antiplatelet therapy and ACE inhibitors or ARBs to control blood pressure and manage related conditions,” she said.
Dr. Gornik said she was particularly concerned about one finding of the study. “The fact that only 65 percent of these patients with very advanced disease and critical limb ischemia (blockage) were on this recommended and proven therapy shows that we have a lot to do in terms of optimizing care for the PAD patient with simple, low-cost and highly effective therapies,” she said.
Dr. Gornik urged all PAD patients to ask their doctors whether they are receiving the same type of medical treatment that a patient with coronary artery disease would be receiving.