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Omega-3 fatty acids help heart patients

Combining omega-3 fatty acids with blood-thinning drugs reduces the risk of heart attacks.

Omega-3 fatty acids help heart patients

Combining omega-3 fatty acids with blood-thinning drugs reduces the risk of heart attacks in patients who've had stents placed in their coronary arteries.

While previous research suggests that foods rich in omega-3s, including fatty fish such as salmon, help reduce the risk of heart problems in those with existing coronary artery disease, this study is probably the first to look at the effect of the omega-3s on those treated with blood-thinning medications after stent placement.

In people with heart disease, a stent is a small tube placed in a blocked or narrowed coronary artery (in the heart) to keep it open and to allow the normal flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. But if a blood clot forms at the stent site, it can block blood flow and result in life-threatening problems such as a heart attack.

Researchers studied 54 patients, on average about 63 years old in Europe. They all had their clogged arteries opened by coronary angioplasty using a catheter followed by placement of stents to keep the blood vessels open. All were receiving the standard medical treatment used in these patients, including a daily dose of aspirin and an anti-platelet drug, clopidogrel, for four weeks after the stent was put in. Twenty-four patients were randomly assigned to receive a placebo pill daily and 30 patients received 1,000 milligrams of omega-3s (EPA and DHA) in pill form daily. The study was a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial - meaning that neither the patients nor the researchers knew who was getting the omega-3s and who was getting the placebo (or sham treatment).

It was found that those who took the omega-3 fatty acids had lower clot formation and better clot properties after the treatment compared to the placebo group. The clots that formed in those on the fish oil pills, for example, were easier to disrupt. The patients taking omega-3s not only produced less of the clot-promoting thrombin, their clots had larger pores and so were easier to break up. Clot destruction time in these patients was also 14 percent shorter than in patients taking placebo pills. Because there were no differences in other clotting features between the groups, the findings were probably due to the fish oil.

The researchers concluded that omega-3 fatty acids in patients who are stable after stenting could be good for such patients. Fish oil is not a replacement for the blood-thinner drugs or other treatments, but simply an added treatment.
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