Question

Heart and Circulatory System

Can cholesterol-lowering medicines dissolve the plaque in arteries?

A Answers (1)

  • Best knowledge suggests that cholesterol can leave fatty plaques in artery walls, decreasing the volume of the deposit, when people take certain medicines that decrease "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL). Some strategies that raise "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) may also shrink the volume of the fatty portion of arterial plaques. These medicines probably don't work by "dissolving" the cholesterol but rather allow the body's protective mechanisms to ferry forms of cholesterol out of the plaque through a sort of "cellular sanitation system." Curiously, lowering the cholesterol content of plaques may help reduce the risk of future heart attacks -- not so much by shrinking blockages but by altering the biology within the plaque in a way that makes the plaque less likely to cause blood clots of the type that cause most heart attacks.
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