Cardiovascular disease and omega-3s: Prescription products and fish oil dietary supplements are not the same

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Background and purpose:

Despite achievement of optimal low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) control with statin therapy, patients with elevated triglycerides (TGs) and residual cardiovascular risk are commonly encountered in clinical practice.


We present information from completed and ongoing clinical trials examining Rx omega-3s for TG-lowering and omega-3 dietary supplements to highlight important differences affecting patient management for nurse practitioners.


Rx omega-3s demonstrate robust reductions in TGs and may have a role in reducing residual cardiovascular risk. Products containing docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may raise LDL-C and should not be substituted for Rx eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)-only icosapent ethyl, which does not raise LDL-C. Omega-3 dietary supplements (e.g., fish oils containing EPA and DHA) may be used for general health promotion; however, they are not regulated as medications and concerns regarding quality, purity, safety, and variability of content exist. It is important to advise patients that omega-3 dietary supplements are not medications and should not be substituted for Rx omega-3s. Large-scale cardiovascular outcomes studies are underway for Rx omega-3s in statin-treated patients.

Implications for practice:

Nurse practitioners can take an active role in reducing residual cardiovascular risk and educating patients about important differences between Rx omega-3s and fish oil supplements.

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