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Harvard Doctors Report Risk Calculator for Statin Drugs is Flawed

Update Date: Nov 19, 2013 07:53 AM EST

The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology introduced the new guidelines for physicians and doctors to use when assessing patient's risk of heart disease due to high cholesterol last week. The new guidelines included an online calculator that would calculate people's risk. Despite these new guidelines drafted by the nation's leading heart organizations, two Harvard Medical School professors found that the calculator overestimates people's risk and could lead to the unnecessary use of statins.

"It's stunning," commented cardiologist, Dr. Steven Nissen, the chief of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic according to the New York Times. "We need a pause to further evaluate this approach before it is implemented on a widespread basis."

For this new report, Dr. Paul M. Ridker and Dr. Nancy Cook tested the calculator. According to both doctors, the device was not accurate when they used it on their participants. Ridker, who is from the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA, presented his findings to the officials from both institutions. The researchers stated that the calculator overestimated people's risk by 75 to 150 percent.

"Miscalibration to this extent should be reconciled and addressed before these new prediction models are widely implemented," Ridker and Cook wrote. "If real, such systematic overestimation of risk will lead to considerable overprescription."

The problems with the calculator could be due to the fact that the associations used data from people in previous decades. Dr. Michael Blaha, the director of clinical research at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins University, explained that the calculator uses cohorts from a different era. Since then, several factors, such as smoking and heart disease have reduced significantly. Blaha was not involved with the new set of guidelines.

"We need to see if the concerns raised are substantive," the executive chairman of the guideline committee, Dr. Sidney Smith, said. "Do there need to be changes?"

Officials from both associations have stood by the new guidelines. Whether or not changes will be enforced will depend on how the heart organizations and other experts view the data. The report was published in The Lancet.

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