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New statin guidelines apply to many

Wednesday - 11/13/2013, 2:54am  ET

WASHINGTON - In the future, more and more people will use statins.

They're already one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States. And, under a new set of guidelines for preventing heart disease and stroke, the number of patients considered eligible for statin therapy is likely to double.

The guidelines were drafted by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health. The new guidelines set the formula for determining an individual's risk of cardiovascular disease and they redefine exactly who can benefit from statin therapy.

"Statins are a spectacular class of medications that have done more to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease than any other drug, except perhaps aspirin," says Dr. Warren Levy, the President and Chief Medical Officer of Virginia Heart, one of the largest cardiology practices in the region.

He says the decision to lower the risk threshold for using these medications is warranted, and that many doctors have been doing it on their own for some time.

The new criteria for statin therapy identifies four specific at-risk groups for treatment:

  • Patients with known vascular disease
  • Patients with an LDL -- bad cholesterol - of above 190
  • Diabetes patients between the ages of 40 and 70
  • And anyone with an LDL of between 70 and 190 with other specific risk factors.

That last group is large and includes almost all senior citizens. Levy expects to see the biggest spike in statin therapy in those older than 70, but adds, "we will certainly see more patients across all age spectrums taking statins."

Levy also emphasizes that statins don't work to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart problems in a vacuum.

"Statins only work in conjunction with a reasonable diet," he says, noting a patient won't reduce their cholesterol to an acceptable level on a daily diet of fast food no matter how many pills he or she may take.

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