BACKGROUND: Ezetimibe, a cholesterol-absorption inhibitor, reduces levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol when added to statin treatment. However, the effect of ezetimibe on the progression of atherosclerosis remains unknown. METHODS: We conducted a double-blind, randomized, 24-month trial comparing the effects of daily therapy with 80 mg of simvastatin either with placebo or with 10 mg of ezetimibe in 720 patients with familial hypercholesterolemia. Patients underwent B-mode ultrasonography to assess the intima-media thickness of the walls of the carotid and femoral arteries. The primary outcome measure was the change in the mean carotid-artery intima-media thickness, which was defined as the average of the means of the far-wall intima-media thickness of the right and left common carotid arteries, carotid bulbs, and internal carotid arteries. RESULTS: The primary outcome, the mean (+/-SE) change in the carotid-artery intima-media thickness, was 0.0058+/-0.0037 mm in the simvastatin-only group and 0.0111+/-0.0038 mm in the simvastatin-plus-ezetimibe (combined-therapy) group (P=0.29). Secondary outcomes (consisting of other variables regarding the intima-media thickness of the carotid and femoral arteries) did not differ significantly between the two groups. At the end of the study, the mean (+/-SD) LDL cholesterol level was 192.7+/-60.3 mg per deciliter (4.98+/-1.56 mmol per liter) in the simvastatin group and 141.3+/-52.6 mg per deciliter (3.65+/-1.36 mmol per liter) in the combined-therapy group (a between-group difference of 16.5%, P<0.01). The differences between the two groups in reductions in levels of triglycerides and C-reactive protein were 6.6% and 25.7%, respectively, with greater reductions in the combined-therapy group (P<0.01 for both comparisons). Side-effect and safety profiles were similar in the two groups. CONCLUSIONS: In patients with familial hypercholesterolemia, combined therapy with ezetimibe and simvastatin did not result in a significant difference in changes in intima-media thickness, as compared with simvastatin alone, despite decreases in levels of LDL cholesterol and C-reactive protein. (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00552097 [ClinicalTrials.gov].).
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