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'Game-changing' cholesterol medications to prevent heart attacks and strokes

Cardiologists say they have three game-changing new options that could prevent the need for stents in the future.

NEW ORLEANS — Statins are a common medication for lowering cholesterol, and preventing heart attacks, and strokes. but there are people who get bad side effects and can't take them.

Now, cardiologists say they have three game-changing new options that could prevent the need for stents in the future.

 A few years ago, Dr. Dan Long went from training for a half-marathon to having a TIA, a mini-stroke. The only sign was numbness in two fingertips one day.

“Your first thought is no that can't be possible, and so I went from feeling fine and thinking that everything was going well to, wow you are pretty ill here,” said Dr. Long, a retired Ophthalmologist.

He was overweight, with high blood pressure and cholesterol. As time went on, chest pain meant Dan needed stents to open up clogged arteries, but he was also on statins. 

That prescription medication has been around for 40 years. It's a very common pill to lower cholesterol and inflammation in the arteries.

“The more inflammation you have within the vessels, the more plaque you will build,” said Touro Interventional Cardiologist, Dr. Frank Wilklow.

He is also the Catheter lab Director and Chief Medical Officer of employed physicians at Touro.

He says around 10% of people on statins get side effects, including muscle aches, cramps at night, and even brain fog. Eventually, that happened to Dan, even with adjusting his statin dosage.

“My ability to run had gone down. In fact, I no longer could run one mile. I was having severe pain in my shoulders, neck, hips, thighs, to the extent I couldn't move. I couldn’t lift my arms. I couldn’t lift my legs,” Dr. Long said.

“Ten years ago, we didn't have very many good options, and now we have lots of good options. Three great options,” Dr. Wilklow said.

There are newer, oral medications like Nexletol with new studies showing the benefit. And simple at-home injections with a preloaded pen. Some are twice a month like Repatha and Praluent, and another, Leqvio, is twice a year. And those are dramatically lowering bad cholesterol, even into the single digits.

"So, we've seen it already where there's less stents, bypass surgeries, but I think as these medications after they've been on the market, people have been using them for 10 years, we feel like there's going to be a lot less coronary disease, and a lot less interventions, like stents and bypass,” Dr. Wilklow said.

In the meantime, Dan's muscle strength is coming back now that he is off of statins and on the new injection.

“I went to not being able to lift anything, zero, above my shoulders. Now I can lift 10 pounds,” Dr. Long said.

Now he's gone from four pills a day to two injections a month, and is planning to run another half-marathon.

Dr. Wilklow said Southeast Louisiana has an increased rate of heart disease at a younger age, because of the high number of people with obesity and diabetes.

The youngest person he has put a stent in was 24 years old.

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