Background: Elevated levels of C-reactive protein, even in the absence of hyperlipidemia, are associated with an increased risk of coronary events. Statin therapy reduces the level of C-reactive protein independently of its effect on lipid levels. We hypothesized that statins might prevent coronary events in persons with elevated C-reactive protein levels who did not have overt hyperlipidemia.
Methods: The level of C-reactive protein was measured at base line and after one year in 5742 participants in a five-year randomized trial of lovastatin for the primary prevention of acute coronary events.
Results: The rates of coronary events increased significantly with increases in the base-line levels of C-reactive protein. Lovastatin therapy reduced the C-reactive protein level by 14.8 percent (P<0.001), an effect not explained by lovastatin-induced changes in the lipid profile. As expected, lovastatin was effective in preventing coronary events in participants whose base-line ratio of total cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol was higher than the median ratio, regardless of the level of C-reactive protein (number needed to treat for five years to prevent 1 event, 47; P=0.005). However, lovastatin was also effective among those with a ratio of total to HDL cholesterol that was lower than the median and a C-reactive protein level higher than the median (number needed to treat, 43; P=0.02). In contrast, lovastatin was ineffective among participants with a ratio of total to HDL cholesterol and a C-reactive protein level that were both lower than the median (number needed to treat, 983; P=0.80).
Conclusions: Statin therapy may be effective in the primary prevention of coronary events among subjects with relatively low lipid levels but with elevated levels of C-reactive protein.