A recent study suggests that a common diabetes medication is effective at preventing strokes and heart attacks.
The link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease has been known for some time, but researchers finally think they have something that could help. According to a recent study from the National Institutes of Health, scientists have identified the drug pioglitazone, typically used to treat type 2 diabetes, as a potential treatment for the prevention of heart attacks and strokes in people who suffer from insulin resistance, but not diabetes.
The study drew data from the Insulin Resistance Intervention after Stroke (IRIS) trial, and was presented at the International Stroke Conference of 2016 in Los Angeles and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study suggests that the drug, which targets cell metabolism, could prevent secondary strokes and heart attacks before a person develops full-on diabetes. Insulin keeps the sugar level in the blood from getting too high, and regulates other aspects of metabolism. People with insulin resistance make enough of the hormone, but can’t use it to effectively regulate cell metabolism.
The study examined over 300 patients from seven counties who had suffered from an ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack over the course of the previous six months. These patients either received a placebo treatment or a dose of pioglitazone for as long as five years, in addition to normal care from their doctors. Both Ischemic strokes and transient ischemic attacks can occur when a blood vessel in the cerebrum becomes blocked, inhibiting oxygen and nutrient flow to the brain.
The researchers discovered that strokes or heart attacks occurred in 9 percent of the participants who were treated with the diabetes medication pioglitazone, and occurred in 11.8 percent of the patients who were given placebos. In other words, they showed that up to 28 strokes or heart attacks can be prevented for roughly every 1000 patients who take the drug for a five year window.
While the results of the study only represent a small sample of the population, the study may be on to something. The researchers acknowledged that further studies will need to be carried out to determine the mechanisms by which the medication actually decreases heart attack and stroke risk.
“The IRIS trial supports the value of more research to test the vascular benefits of other interventions such as exercise, diet and medications that have similar effects on metabolism as pioglitazone,” said Walter N. Kernan, M.D., a professor of general medicine at Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, and the study’s lead author.