I’ve got high cholesterol even though I try my best to eat right and exercise several times a week. So far my doctor isn’t recommending that I take a statin like Lipitor or Zocor. But that could change under sweeping new guidelines issued this week.
Statins are drugs used to lower cholesterol, which in turn can reduce your risk for stroke and/or heart attack. Heart disease kills more people in the U.S. than all types of cancer combined. That’s one in four of us, or 600,000 people a year. In a new effort to reduce heart disease deaths, the largest heart disease associations in the U.S. are now recommending major changes to who should be taking statins.
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology are no longer focusing on cholesterol alone. Instead, they recommend identifying overall factors that increase your risk for heart disease — period. Experts say under these new guidelines the number of people taking statins could nearly double. That’s a lot of people, considering nearly one-quarter of those age 45 and older are already taking a statin.
How does this affect you?
Under the new guidelines there are four questions you and your doctor should consider:
1. Do you already have heart disease?
2. Do you have Type 2 diabetes, and are you between the ages of 40 and 75?
3. Do you have an LDL cholesterol level (the “bad” cholesterol) higher than 190 mg/dL?
4. Is your 10-year risk for heart attack or stroke greater than 7.5 percent, and are you between the ages of 40 and 75?
I asked a heart disease expert at Norton Healthcare what he thought about the new guidelines. Joseph Lash, M.D., with Norton Cardiovascular Associates, says he’s very supportive of the new guidelines.
He told me: “It adds clarity based on expert consensus on who should be taking statins. We’ve known that people with heart disease and Type 2 diabetes probably should be taking statins. Now this gives us parameters for others outside those groups.”
Dr. Lash says you can use a risk factor calculator to determine your risk for heart disease. These new guidelines show it’s not one isolated entity that determines who should be on a statin but how these factors all interplay with one another. He says it’s helping doctors do the right thing based on a lot of scientific evidence.
It will likely take time for these new guidelines to be implemented. Some people can reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke simply by making lifestyle changes. For others, statins may be the best course of action. That’s why Dr. Lash recommends talking with your primary care doctor or cardiologist.