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AT THE HEART OF THE MATTER: Access to new medication has potential to save lives and healthcare dollars

AT THE HEART OF THE MATTER: Access to new medication has potential to save lives and healthcare dollars

Now more than ever, Canadians need to see changes in how heart health is managed. With more than 2.4 million Canadians suffering from heart disease, and thousands dying every year as a result, cardiovascular disease continues to be one of the leading causes of death in Canada. This may make managing heart health seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. A new report from the Conference Board of Canada investigates the impact increasing access to a new medication category could have on two high-risk populations.

In many cases heart disease can be prevented and managed, primarily by controlling the risk factors that cause it, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and being overweight.

However, for some people, certain risk factors cannot be managed with lifestyle changes alone. Patients with conditions that cause higher cholesterol levels, like familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) – a genetic disorder that creates high blood cholesterol levels – or atherosclerosis, which causes a build-up of plaque in the arteries, still have greater difficulty managing their cholesterol levels, even when treated with cholesterol-lowering medications like statins or MTP inhibitors. However, a new category of biologic medication known as PCSK9 inhibitors can help to effectively manage cholesterol levels in these high-risk patients with more difficult-to-treat cholesterol.

Like all medicines, these biologics come with both benefits and risks. Benefits of PCSK9 inhibitors in patients with familial hypercholesterolemia, for instance, can include significantly lowering cholesterol which may lead to reduced risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attack, stroke and other related events. Potential adverse reactions among those who opt for a PCSK9 inhibitor range from respiratory infections and influenza, to less serious side effects like injection site reactions (including redness, itching, swelling, tenderness), back or joint pain, and nausea.

The truth is, there is no single, perfect solution for tackling this major health challenge which can create a ripple effect that not only negatively impacts our healthcare system, but also places unnecessary burden on the Canadian economy. Between increased hospitalizations, the additional strain on resources for patients living with the disease, and overall lost productivity from patients and their caregivers, the impact is even more extensive than what appears on the surface.

“Heart disease is preventable for many people through changing, eliminating or avoiding one or several risk factors, such as hypertension, smoking, diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol,” said Isabelle Gagnon-Arpin, Senior Research Associate in health economics, The Conference Board of Canada. “Improving access to effective cholesterol lowering treatment for high-risk individuals could help reduce the health and economic burden of heart disease in Canada.”

Improving heart health across the country and keeping people out of the hospital will free up our health system’s resources to focus on other health issues. Embracing advances in medical technology can also be an effective way to cut costs and improve patient outcomes. The Conference Board of Canada report looks at the impact of increasing access to PCSK9 inhibitors to manage high cholesterol in high-risk populations. In fact, the report found that over the course of 20 years, this could save hundreds of thousands of lives along with saving Canada’s economy more than $30 billion.

Canadians living with a heart condition should not feel helpless. With access to the right information, medication, and support, heart patients can live longer and healthier lives. They have the ability to take control of their heart health and achieve the lifestyle they desire. And having such tools not only improves patient care outcomes, it can also unburden Canada’s healthcare system for the millions that rely on it, both for today and for tomorrow, as well.

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