SSM Health Medical Minute: Fighting inflammation may reduce the risk of subsequent heart attacks

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A recent article by The New York Times found that drugs that fight inflammation can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and possibly lung cancer, in people who have already had one heart attack and are at high risk for another.

Dr. M Kiran Kancherla, director of cardiology at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital, noted that heart disease is still the leading cause of death worldwide and in the United States, killing over 630,000 people in 2015. The drug that was studied--marketed under the brand name Ilaris--is already prescribed to help juvenile rheumatoid arthritis patients and other rare disorders, but not heart disease.

Ilaris is manufactured by Novartis, which paid for the new study.

Cardiologists have traditionally used cholesterol fighting drugs to avoid subsequent heart attacks, yet many patients who had control of their cholesterol would suffer a second heart attack or stroke. This study revealed that inflammation may contribute to heart and artery disease. Inflammation is the response by the immune system to injury or infection in the body.

However, Dr. Kancherla noted the drug suppresses part of the immune system and could increase the risk of infections, so cardiologists are excited by the study about inflammation but hope this revelation will begin to develop a drug that specifically targets inflammation in the heart.

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