Heart Drug for Blacks

A two-drug combination pill dramatically reduced deaths among blacks with heart failure, a finding that is expected to lead to the first medication marketed for a specific race.

The study, the largest ever done solely on blacks with heart failure, was reported yesterday at an American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans and will be published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The drug's maker plans to seek Food and Drug Administration approval by the end of the year.

Heart failure affects 5 million Americans, but blacks are 21/2 times as likely to develop it as members of other races. It happens when the heart is too weak to pump effectively.

A Massachusetts company, NitroMed, developed the pill, called BiDil, that combines isosorbide dinitrate and hydralazine, which boost nitric oxide in the blood. The substance plays many roles in heart health and blacks appear to have lower levels of it. In a company-funded study of 1,050 blacks, only 6.2 percent of the patients who took BiDil had died after two years, compared with 10.2 percent who got only standard heart failure drugs, said Anne Taylor of the University of Minnesota, one of the study's leaders.

Risk Factor Screening

Middle-aged adults who do not yet have heart disease but have a spectrum of symptoms called metabolic syndrome are very likely to also have clogged arteries, researchers said yesterday.

The findings suggest primary care doctors should be screening patients for the signs of heart disease early and often, the researchers told a meeting of the American Heart Association.

The association defines metabolic syndrome as having three of five risk factors: a top blood pressure reading of more than 130; a blood glucose level of 120 or more, which can indicate risk for diabetes; high triglyceride levels; low levels of high density lipoprotein or "good" cholesterol; and a large waist.

Kwame Akosah and colleagues at the Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, Wis., studied 246 adults with an average age of 53. None had obvious symptoms of heart disease and all appeared at low risk of heart disease using standard measures.

Of the people they studied, 75 had metabolic syndrome, and ultrasound scans showed 75 percent also had the beginnings of a clogged carotid artery, the team found.

Tool for Family History

Despite advances in genetic testing, the U.S. surgeon general yesterday urged Americans to track down and record cases of cancer, heart disease and other diseases prevalent in their families.

Officials have developed a new computer-based program to help patients better organize their medical histories and present them to their doctors, U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said.

Although many know that their family's health can indicate possible problems with their own, "relatively few people have tried to collect it in an organized way," Carmona said. Such information is cheaper than costly genetic tests and can help patients seek preventive screenings or get diagnosed earlier, officials said.

The computer-based tool is available online at www.hhs.gov/familyhistory.

-- From News Services