Asthma sufferers taking statins in addition to their regular medicine required significantly fewer trips to the hospital, according to a study the provides the latest suggestion of added benefits from the widely-used cholesterol lowering drugs.
Among adults on inhaled corticosteroids in the 6,574-patient study, those also taking statins reduced their chances of an asthma-related hospitalization or emergency room visit by 33 percent, according to data presented at the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology meeting in Washington on Saturday.
The study was conducted by researchers from Medco Health Solutions Inc and Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.
"The implications of this study are exciting because they point to the potential role statins could play in helping prevent the most serious asthma attacks that land patients in the hospital," Dr Robert Epstein, Medco's chief medical officer, said in a statement.
"There has been heightened interest in how the anti-inflammatory power of statins might benefit asthma patients," said Epstein, who cautioned that the findings are preliminary and will require further clinical studies.
Statins, including Pfizer Inc's Lipitor, lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol in the blood and have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. They have also demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties that could play a role in helping with asthma and other diseases.
A recent study of AstraZeneca Plc's powerful statin Crestor showed it dramatically reduced incidence of heart attack, stroke and death after just two years in patients with healthy cholesterol levels but increased C-reactive protein, an indicator of arterial inflammation.
Other studies have suggested that statins may reduce the risk of dying from pneumonia or developing dangerous blood clots and the possibility of protecting against Alzheimer's disease.
If the asthma results pan out, statins — already the world's most widely used prescription medicines — could eventually help to further cut health care costs.
Asthma is caused by inflammation and swelling of the airways and constriction of the muscles of the bronchial passages.
There are half a million asthma-related hospitalizations and 217,000 emergency room visits in the United States each year. U.S. hospital care costs for the chronic respiratory disease reached $4.7 billion in 2007, according to Medco.
The year-long study involved patients who were prescribed inhaled corticosteroid therapy for asthma in 2006 and had one or more asthma-related hospitalizations or emergency room visits in the previous 12 months.
The incidence of a recurrent hospitalization or ER visits was 29.4 percent for those not taking a statin but fell to 20.5 percent for those patients on a cholesterol fighter, researchers said.