By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Dwaine Harris has had two stents after bouts of chest pain.

“[In] 2009, I had a situation where I almost had a heart attack,” says Dwaine. “My cholesterol level was 350, which is extremely high. It’s just a continuous struggle to keep the cholesterol level down.”

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He’s tried a number of statins, but developed muscle pain and joint aches. As an alternative, he’s on niacin now, but not being able to keep his cholesterol below 200 is frustrating.

“Very frustrating. You try to do everything you can by dieting, watching what you eat, exercising, and it’s just a struggle,” he says. “The lowest I’ve ever gotten was 180, but since then, it’s climbed back up.”

The Food and Drug Administration has recently approved injectable medicines to lower bad cholesterol. These are for people with high cholesterol even though they’re taking pills to lower it.

“There are patients who may prefer to take a shot every two weeks as opposed to taking a pill every day, which you can tend to forget,” says Dr. Indu Poornima, a cardiologist at Allegheny General Hospital.

Dwaine hopes he might get a shot at the new medicine.

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“I take about 11 pills a day now. This would reduce the amount of pills I’d have to take,” he says.

The shots will be given by the patient at home. Some training will be needed. And so far, the main side effects? Injection site irritation and muscle aches, just like with the statins.

Another concern is cost: up to almost $15,000 a year, compared to only several hundred for statins.

Dwaine has tried to start new cholesterol medicines in the past, but ran into trouble.

“The insurance company didn’t approve it,” he said.

Because the injections can lower cholesterol by up to 60 percent, Dr. Poornima plans to prescribe it, but in a limited way.

“I would say less than one percent of the patients I see may benefit from this drug at the moment,” she says.

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