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Panel Recommends Preventive Statin Use in Adults aged 40 and Up

Update Date: Dec 22, 2015 04:29 PM EST

A U.S.-backed panel of experts is recommending that adults aged 40 and over should take statins as a preventive measure.

Statins are cholesterol-lowering drugs that can be effective at reducing risk of heart attack or stroke. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, adults between the ages of 40 and 75 who have at least one risk factor for heart disease and a 10 percent increased risk of heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years could benefit from taking statins even if they have not suffered from a cardiovascular event or stroke.

The task force added that doctors should consider putting their patients who have a 7.5 percent to 10 percent increased risk of heart attack or stroke on statins as well. The experts noted that risk would be assessed using the American Heart Association (AHA) and American College of Cardiology (ACC) risk calculator. Risk factors include cholesterol levels, blood pressure, diabetes and smoking.

This is the first time that the USPSTF has made a recommendation regarding statins. The task force arrived at its conclusion after analyzing data taken from 18 trials that examined the effects of statin use on heart attack and stroke risks in different patients. The USPSTF found that statin use lowered risk of death from any cause by 17 percent. People's risk of death from heart disease, specifically, fell by 36 percent.

On top of death risk, people on statins had a 28 percent reduced risk of stroke, a 37 percent lower risk of heart attacks and a 31 percent lower risk of having other heart conditions. The task force noted that people who have higher risk of these heart events would benefit the most from taking statins.

The USPSTF recommendations are in line and "absolutely consistent with the ACC and AHA guidelines," the president of the AHA, Dr. Mark Creager, commented reported by TIME.

He added, "They give a little more discretion to doctors for people with 7.5% risk, which is perfectly appropriate. But the two statements are really quite consistent with each other. They don't conflict."

Despite the similarities between the guidelines for statin use, some experts believe that adding another guideline that also is not very clear will only confuse people.

"What we have here is another opportunity for confusion," says Dr. Steven Nissen, chair of cardiovascular medicine at Cleveland Clinic. "These recommendations leave as many questions as they give answers, and it just doesn't help. It doesn't clarify for prescribers and for patients what they should do. I find that exasperating."

The USPSTF stated that about 36 million Americans currently take statins.

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