More young adults should be taking cholesterol-lowering statins, according to a recent study that found that increased statin use could prevent more than 266,000 life-threatening heart events in the U.S. over the next ten years.
Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this study looked at eligibility criteria for cholesterol-lowering statins. Statins are a class of drugs that lower cholesterol levels in the blood, helping prevent heart attack and stroke.
For years, statins have been recommended for millions of Americans at high risk for heart disease, like those with high cholesterol or diabetes. Statins can delay or even prevent heart disease in these high-risk populations and reduce risk for heart events.
In 2013 experts broadened guidelines, recommending statins for adults with at least 7.5% risk for developing heart disease in the next ten years or those with elevated cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, greater than or equal to 70 mg/dL).
But even so, experts worry that many adults are missing out on the life-saving benefits of statins.
To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2005–2010. More than 2,100 Americans participated in the study, completing health questionnaires and undergoing cholesterol testing over the five-year period.
Based on current guidelines, which use 10-year risk assessments to assess statin eligibility, 15 million Americans are eligible for cholesterol-lowering statins. A new model that includes individualized risk assessment, however, would recommend statins for nearly 25 million Americans. Additional statin treatment could prevent an estimated 266,500 heart events over the next ten years.
As experts explain, the problem is that the 10-year risk assessment relies heavily on age, so cardiovascular risk in young adults may be overlooked. The current model recommends statins for older adults around 63 with a lower low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol. In comparison, the new model recommends statins for adults an average age of 55 with higher cholesterol levels.
Authors hope their findings influence future recommendations to increase statin therapy for younger adults. Ultimately, the goal is to identify all patients that stand to benefit from statins. With a better screening process, experts hope that more Americans become eligible for statins to help prevent heart disease.