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An Anti-Cholesterol Shot Plus Why You Should See Your Heart Damage

calcium scan

Monthly injections of an experimental drug that can reduce cholesterol, as well as evidence that images of clogged arteries can motivate people to lose weight, were among the new studies presented at the American College of Cardiology's annual scientific sessions in Chicago this past weekend.

First up -- those scary scans of your coronary arteries. Apparently, seeing really is believing when it comes to convincing reluctant patients to get serious about their heart disease.

Two new studies found that patients who saw detailed CT scans that showed calcium build-up in their arteries (arrow pointing to white matter in the image at left), were much more likely to lose weight and take their cholesterol-lowering drugs regularly, compared to those who could see little evidence of artery disease in their scans.

The images are not just important for diagnosis, researchers said, but also for convincing patients to take their statin pills and make lifestyle changes that could greatly improve their heart health.

Seeing a scan "gives patients a visual picture of how severe their disease is, and this picture seems to have a really big impact," said Canadian cardiologist Nove Kalia, one of the lead investigators for both studies.

Researchers used  coronary calcium scans, which take highly detailed images of the walls of coronary arteries. Calcium in the walls is considered an early sign of heart disease, usually preceding the plaque build-up that can block blood flow to the heart.

Those patients with the highest calcium score -- meaning the most calcium accumulation -- were 2.5 times more likely to take statins as directed and more than three times as likely to lose weight. Those whose scans showed little calcium were much less likely to do either.

In other new developments from the conference: Results of an early-stage trial of an experimental drug from Amgen, Inc., showed that monthly injections of the new drug may slash levels of cholesterol by up to an addtional 66 percent in patients already taking statins, Reuters reported.

Drugmakers Amgen and Regeneron are both racing to develop medicines that cut cholesterol in a new way by blocking a protein called PCSK9 that carries LDL cholesterol through the bloodstream.

Amgen's AMG 145, given in either bi-weekly or monthly injections, cut levels of "bad" cholesterol by up to 75 percent when tested on patients already taking statins.

Patients who took low to moderate doses of statins and received injections of the new drug every two weeks had LDL cholesterol reductions of up to 75 percent after six weeks, the company said. Those who got shots monthly had up to a 66 percent reduction.

Researchers from Regeneron are slated to present the data from their studies today.

Photo credit: Allen J. Taylor, MD/Washington Hospital Center

In other health news:

 Kroger, Safeway, other chains decide to pull beef with "pink slime." The consumer uproar over ground beef containing the ammonia-treated filler known as "pink slime" has prompted more national supermarket chains to announce they'll stop buying  ground beef that contains it. USA Today reports that Kroger, the nation's largest supermarket chain, reversed itself last week and said it would no longer sell beef with the unappetizing additive. Wegmans also said it would transition to filler-free ground beef as it "becomes available from the supplier." In addition, Stop n' Shop, Food Lion, Safeway, and Supervalu, which operates a number of stores including Albertsons, Farm fresh, Shop n' Save And Shoppers Food, have said they will stop selling fresh or frozen ground beef with the filler made from leftover beef remnants.

FDA must act to remove antibiotics from animal feed, court rules. A federal judge ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to start proceedings to withdraw approval for the use of common antibiotics in animal feed -- an action the FDA first proposed 35 years ago, then never acted on. A lawsuit filed by environmental and public health groups charged that overuse of antibiotics endangers human health by creating antibiotic-resistant "superbugs."

60 percent of hospitals surveyed say they've trashed scarce drugs.   Amid ongoing shortages of critical drugs, 60 percent of hospital pharmacists surveyed said they've been forced to trash life-saving or expensive medications because of misguided government rules, reports. Pharmacists say they face sanctions if they don't follow use-by instructions in drugmakers' package inserts, which can often be outdated or incomplete.

What your gynecologist doesn't know about your sex life.  One-half of older women say they have problems with sex, including pain during intercourse or lack of desire, but a new survey of gynecologists found that only a measly 14 percent of doctors ask about sexual activity and pleasure, NPR reports. The impact of sexual problems can be far-reaching, said the study's author, but if the doctor doesn't ask, patients often assume the topic is not welcome for discussion.

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