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n-3 fatty acids do not prevent cardiovascular events in high-risk patients

Clinical Question:
Does supplementation with n-3 fatty acids prevent cardiovascular events in high-risk patients?

Bottom Line:
There is no evidence that n-3 fatty acids prevent cardiovascular events or death in older adults who have cardiovascular disease (or who are at risk for it but have not had a myocardial infarction). (LOE = 1b)

The Risk and Prevention Study Collaborative Group, Roncaglioni MC, Tombesi M, et al. N-3 fatty acids in patients with multiple cardiovascular risk factors. N Engl J Med 2013;368(19):1800-1808.  [PMID:23656645]

Study Design:
Randomized controlled trial (double-blinded)

Industry + govt


Outpatient (any)

Despite great enthusiasm and a wealth of disease-oriented evidence, the patient-oriented evidence to support n-3 fatty acids in cardiovascular prevention is sparse at best. In this study, 12,505 patients with known cardiovascular disease or at least 4 of the following risk factors were recruited: age at least 65 years, male, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, tobacco use, obesity, and a family history of premature cardiovascular disease. Patients with diabetes mellitus and at least one other risk factor were also included. Patients with a previous myocardial infarction, pregnant women, and those with a short expected lifespan were excluded. The study patients were randomly assigned, with concealed allocation, to receive a capsule containing 1g n-3 fatty acids or a placebo capsule of olive oil. The mean age of participants was 64 years, 62% were male, and only one third ate fish 2 or more times per week. Groups were balanced at the start of the study and analysis was by intention to treat. After a median of 5 years of follow-up, the primary combined outcome of death, nonfatal myocardial infarction, or nonfatal stroke occurred in 11.7% of patients who received n-3 fatty acids and 11.9% of those who received the placebo (P = .58). This was also true when a per-protocol analysis was used, and was true for individual outcomes including sudden cardiac death, cardiovascular death, hospitalization, myocardial infarction, and stroke. The only differences seen were a reduction in hospitalizations for heart failure (1.5% vs 2.3%; P = .002; number needed to treat = 125 for 5 years) and a borderline reduction in the likelihood of death or first hospitalization for cardiovascular causes in women but not men. Given the large number of comparisons, these findings could easily have occurred by chance alone.


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