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Mar 26, 2014

New Cholesterol Guidelines Could Mean More People Need Statins

Study finds 13 million more Americans should be on cholesterol-lowering drugs, according to 2013 cholesterol guidelines.

According to new guidelines, research shows millions of more Americans should be taking cholesterol-lowering medications to prevent heart disease.

In Nov. 2013, the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association released updated guidelines for the management of cholesterol. Guidelines were much stricter than previous recommendations, suggesting that patients with a LDL (“bad”) cholesterol of 190mg/dL or higher should be on statins—drugs that help lower cholesterol levels. New guidelines also recommend that anyone with diabetes or a 10-year risk of heart disease greater than 7.5% should take cholesterol-lowering meds. The rationale being the more proactive we are in prescribing effective medications for higher-risk patients, the better we can help patients prevent ever developing heart disease.

In response to updated guidelines, experts wondered how many more Americans should be taking statins per new recommendations. The answer is 13 million, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2005 and 2010, researchers were able to identify Americans that weren’t on statins but should be, according to new cholesterol guidelines. After analysis, they determined that adults eligible for statin therapy would increase from 43.2 million to 56 million American adults—that’s nearly 50% of the U.S. adult population. And the proportion of adults between 60-75 years old without heart disease who should be taking statins would more than double, mostly due to the fact that their 10-year risk for heart disease is elevated.

These findings provide plenty of food for thought for patients and providers, alike. Prescribing statins for nearly 13 million more Americans is no easy feat, especially when they need to be taken daily and can have side effects for certain patients. And although most statins are relatively cheap these days, the collective cost of millions more Americans taking cholesterol-lowering drugs is significant. Still, increased statin use could prevent countless heart attacks and strokes and has the potential to save millions of lives.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are statins?
  • Statins are drugs used to lower cholesterol. They help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol, which can help prevent heart attack and stroke. Statins prevent your body from making new cholesterol and may help reduce the amount of plaque already built up on artery walls.
  • Who should take statins?

  • Statins are commonly prescribed to patients with high cholesterol. Most often, patients who need to lower their LDL cholesterol the most are prescribed stronger doses of statins, while those needing to lower their cholesterol slightly may be prescribed lower doses.


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Total cholesterol is made up of both HDL ("good" cholesterol) and LDL, the "bad" cholesterol—in addition to triglycerides—that you have to keep low.