Purpose: Accelerated coronary atherosclerosis is a major cause of heart graft failure two years and more after heart transplantation, yet its etiology remains undetermined. We conducted this study to determine the prevalence of coronary risk-associated lipid abnormalities, and the relationship between lipid levels and exposure to corticosteroids and cyclosporine, in heart transplant recipients. Patients and methods: The records of 92 consecutive heart transplant recipients from three different transplantation centers were reviewed. Patients from the three centers varied in age, in corticosteroid regimens, and in the proportion undergoing transplantation for ischemic cardiomyopathy. Although 11 patients were not receiving corticosteroids at the time of the study, all patients had received them immediately after transplantation. In addition to information pertaining to demographics, pretransplant medical history, rejection episodes, drug doses, renal function, and blood glucose levels, data on dietary intake and body weight were collected and plasma lipid levels were measured at the time of record review. Results: A significant number, 48 (52 percent), of heart transplant recipients were above the sex-and age-adjusted 75th percentile, and 35 (38 percent) were above the 90th percentile for total cholesterol in comparison with a general reference population. Similar elevations were found in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglyceride, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Bivariate analysis demonstrated cumulative prednisone exposure (r = 0.40, p = 0.0001) and cumulative cyclosporine exposure (r = 0.22, p = 0.04) but not diet or etiology of pretransplant heart disease to be significantly associated with age- or sex-adjusted total cholesterol percentiles. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol percentiles were also correlated with cumulative prednisone (r = 0.37, p = 0.001) and cumulative cyclosporine exposure (r = 0.24, p = 0.02). Stepwise multiple linear regression analysis, however, demonstrated cumulative prednisone exposure to be the strongest predictor of both total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and percentiles (p = 0.0001), independent of cumulative cyclosporine exposure and other clinical variables. Conclusion: These data suggest that long-term corticosteroid exposure may result in an increased prevalence of unfavorable lipid profiles in heart transplant recipients.
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