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For over 25 years, tens of millions of Americans have been told they need to take a statin medication to get their cholesterol levels down.
Three New Broad Risk Categories
The new approach creates three broad risk categories requiring statin treatment.
Also asked to take statins will be everyone else who has a risk of at least 7.5% of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years, based on a calculation with an online spreadsheet tool that takes into consideration age, blood pressure, total cholesterol level, and ethnicity.
But people in these categories will no longer be told to get their cholesterol down to 70 or lower by rigorous dieting or increasing dosages or by switching medications, typically to Crestor (rosuvastatin). The new risk guidelines calculate risk of stroke as well as risk of heart attack, unlike old calculations of cardiovascular risk.
Some People Will Come Off Statins, Some People Will Go on Them
Before the new guidelines, "high cholesterol" was considered to be a sufficient reason by itself to be placed on statin drugs.
On the other hand, the new guidelines take into account the fact that African-Americans are at substantially greater risk than the rest of the American population for stroke, and many African-Americans who have high blood pressure but lower levels of cholesterol who are not on statins now will be asked to take them.
Non-Statin Cholesterol-Lowering Medications Likely to Be Less Often Prescribed
Zetia lowers cholesterol levels by blocking the absorption of cholesterol from food. Because the cholesterol stays in the intestines, the drug commonly causes constipation, sometimes offsetting the constipation caused by the statin drug. But adding cholesterol-lowering drugs to other cholesterol-lowering drugs has never been shown actually to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Doctors Resist the Idea of Prescribing Fewer Statins
Perhaps predictably, many doctors are already raising objections to changing standards they have used for years.
Someone under the age of 20 would almost never be prescribed a statin, for instance. But some doctors believe that keeping LDL levels to a minimum would stop cardiovascular damage from ever occurring. There is, however, no evidence of lowering normal LDL levels by drugs actually prevents heart attack of stroke.