Secondary Prevention of Coronary Artery Disease with Omega-3 Fatty Acids

  • Terry A. Jacobson
    Address for reprints: Terry A. Jacobson, MD, Department of Medicine, Emory University, 49 Jesse Hill Jr Drive SE, Atlanta, Georgia 30303.
    Department of Medicine, Office of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
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      Omega-3 fatty acid therapy is a promising intervention for the secondary prevention of coronary artery disease (CAD). Omega-3 fatty acids have properties that promote atherosclerotic plaque stability and decrease the incidence of ischemia-driven cardiac arrhythmias. A large number of clinical trials conducted in patients with CAD or prior myocardial infarction (MI) have examined hard cardiovascular end points, including total mortality, cardiovascular mortality, sudden death, and nonfatal MI. Several intermediate cardiovascular end-point studies have also examined whether ventricular arrhythmias can be suppressed in patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). Significant reductions in total mortality and sudden death—20% to 50%—have been found in studies using doses of 0.85 to 4.0 g/day, with treatment durations from 12 to 42 months. Favorable trends toward reduction in the incidence of arrhythmic events have been demonstrated in some, but not all, ICD studies. Omega-3 fatty acid therapy shows a general positive trend toward benefit in reducing life-threatening events after MI and in patients with ICDs who have ischemic arrhythmias. Results of the recent Japan EPA Lipid Intervention Study (JELIS) in a large cohort (N = 18,645) of Japanese men and women suggest significant benefits in the reduction of unstable angina and nonfatal coronary events. The totality of evidence supports a strong role for omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil in secondary prevention through a presumptive role as an antiarrhythmic agent and through an ability to promote plaque stabilization.
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