PLAINS TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Nearly every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a heart attack. Now, one of the newest means of trying to prevent one is actually a drug that’s been used for another health purpose.
Vascepa was previously prescribed for people suffering from high triglyceride levels but the Food and Drug Administration believes it can reduce cardiovascular risk. Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller spoke to a local cardiologist about who best benefits from it and why it’s not a good fit for everyone.
It’s a pill that’s a fish-oil derived medication called Vascepa. It’s been around since 2012 to treat patients with high triglycerides which are a type of fat found in the blood. But now the FDA has approved it for another purpose.
Geisinger Cardiologist Yasser Khalil, MD said, “It was noticed that there was a significant, significantly lower chance of death, heart attacks or strokes.”
How significant? More than 8,000 high-risk cardiovascular patients took part in five years of randomized testing. Participants were already taking a statin to control elevated levels of triglycerides. Those who also took Vascepa during the testing period had a 25 percent lower risk of a cardiovascular event and a 20 percent lower risk of death.
Dr. Khalil says don’t confuse Vascepa with your average, over the counter fish oil supplement.
“Vascepa is a purified form of Omega 3 fatty acids,” he said.
Dr. Khalil says two groups of patients benefit the most from Vascepa. One includes those 45 and older who previously had a heart attack or stroke, have high triglycerides and are already on a statin. The other group? Those 55 and older with diabetes and an extra risk factor.
He said, “Either they were a smoker, they had high blood pressure or they had what we call peripheral vascular disease – blockages in the big arteries of the neck or the lower extremities.”
Dr. Khalil says there’s a rather insignificant risk of bleeding, irregular heartbeat and body aches that may be associated with Vascepa. But for what the drug is now intended to do, he considers it the biggest development since statins.
“It’s a game-changer for us clinicians,” he said.
Vascepa is taken twice a day along with a statin. The drug costs about $300 a month but some co-pays are as low as $30. Keep in mind if you take Vascepa, don’t take other supplements without first consulting a doctor.