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N Engl J Med. 1998 Dec 31;339(27):1972-8.

Effect of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors on coronary artery disease as assessed by electron-beam computed tomography.

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Electron Beam Tomography Research Foundation, Hendersonville, TN 37075, USA.



Angiographic studies of the regression of coronary artery disease are invasive and costly, and they permit only limited assessment of changes in the extent of atherosclerotic disease. Electron-beam computed tomography (CT) is noninvasive and inexpensive. The entire coronary-artery tree can be studied during a single imaging session, and the volume of coronary calcification as quantified with this technique correlates closely with the total burden of atherosclerotic plaque.


We conducted a retrospective study of 149 patients (61 percent men and 39 percent women; age range, 32 to 75 years) with no history of coronary artery disease who were referred by their primary care physicians for screening electron-beam CT. All patients underwent base-line scanning and follow-up assessment after a minimum of 12 months (range, 12 to 15), and a volumetric calcium score was calculated as an estimate of the total burden of plaque. Treatment with 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitors was begun at the discretion of the referring physician. Serial measurements of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol were obtained, and the change in the calcium-volume score was correlated with average LDL cholesterol levels.


One hundred five patients (70 percent) received treatment with HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, and 44 patients (30 percent) did not. At follow-up, a net reduction in the calcium-volume score was observed only in the 65 treated patients whose final LDL cholesterol levels were less than 120 mg per deciliter (3.10 mmol per liter) (mean [+/-SD] change in the score, -7+/-23 percent; P=0.01). Untreated patients had an average LDL cholesterol level of at least 120 mg per deciliter and at the time of follow-up had a significant net increase in mean calcium-volume score (mean change, +52+/-36 percent; P<0.001). The 40 treated patients who had average LDL cholesterol levels of at least 120 mg per deciliter had a measurable increase in mean calcium-volume score (25+/-22 percent, P<0.001), although it was smaller than the increase in the untreated patients.


The extent to which the volume of atherosclerotic plaque decreased, stabilized, or increased was directly related to treatment with HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors and the resulting serum LDL cholesterol levels. These changes can be determined noninvasively by electron-beam CT and quantified with use of a calcium-volume score.

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