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New Guidelines Recommend Wider Use of Statin Drugs

Update Date: Nov 13, 2013 04:12 PM EST

High cholesterol, when left untreated can lead to fatal heart conditions. People over 45-years-old who have high cholesterol tend to be prescribed with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. Even though around 25 percent of Americans use these drugs, new guidelines revised by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology could mean that more people will be on statin drugs within the near future.

"It's really about your global risk," commented Donald Lloyd-Jones, the chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University, reported by the Washington Post. "There were a number of people at substantial risk, who, under the old paradigm, were not being capture."

The new recommendations were drafted by 20 experts including Lloyd-Jones after a four-year review of research. The cardiologists behind the revised guidelines believe that this new formula will help physicians estimate their patients' risks of heart attacks and stroke more accurately. For years, physicians have been focused on "bad" cholesterol, which is the level of low-density lipoproteins (LDL).

Even though this number greatly affects people's risk of cardiovascular issues, the new guidelines encourage physicians to consider age, weight, blood pressure, smoking habit and other conditions as contributing factors to heart disease as well. The new guidelines encourage physicians to prescribe statins to people with a moderate risk of heart attack or stroke regardless of their LDL level.

The new guidelines mean that another 33 million Americans who might not have a heart condition yet but have a 7.5 percent or higher chance of developing one within the next decade could be prescribed statins. The people that will most likely qualify for statins under these new recommendations are mainly African American men and women because they tend to have higher blood pressure than white men and women. However, most men over 70, regardless of age, will probably be on statin medications.

"Lower [LDL] is better, and no one's arguing that, but once you have a reason to treat someone, they should be treated fully, " commented Kim Williams, the vice president of the American College of Cardiology. "That's really one of the bottom lines of this."

Within the U.S., heart disease is the leading killer for both men and women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that around one in every four deaths, which amounts to 600,000 deaths in total are due to heart disease. Over 700,000 Americans have heart attacks every year and the costs to care for cardiovascular health problems can be well over $100 billion per year.

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