Background: Until recently, patients with heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (HeFH) were considered the best subjects for the assessment of changes in carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) in randomized intervention trials. Our aims were to investigate whether contemporary statin-treated HeFH patients still show accelerated cIMT increase and to assess the impact of statin treatment, before and after random assignment, on atherosclerosis progression.
Methods and results: We retrospectively evaluated cIMT change, and prior statin treatment and postbaseline LDL-C change as predictors of cIMT change, in 1513 HeFH patients who were randomly assigned to the statin arms of the early ASAP and more recent RADIANCE 1, CAPTIVATE, and ENHANCE studies. In the 3 recent studies combined, mean cIMT increased at only 33%of the rate of the simvastatin-treated patients in the ASAP study (0.014 mm/2 years [95% confidence interval, -0.0003-0.028] versus 0.041 mm/2 years [95% confidence interval, 0.020-0.061]; P<0.05). Patients whose statin therapy could be intensified, as evidenced by an LDL-C decrease after the initiation of on-trial statin therapy, showed cIMT decrease in the first 6 to 12 months and a much lower cIMT increase measured over the full 2 years. In line with this, previously statin-naive HeFH patients showed a lower overall cIMT increase.
Conclusions: Over the years, intensification of statin therapy in HeFH patients has resulted in an impressive decrease in carotid atherosclerosis progression. In studies that assess other antiatherosclerotic modalities, statin therapy may still induce rapid changes in cIMT. For future cIMT studies, our analyses suggest that patient populations other than intensively pretreated HeFH patients should be selected and that the statin regimen should not be changed on study initiation.