New guidance recommends millions more to take statins

statinsThere could soon be millions more British patients being prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins such as atorvastatin or pravastatin to safeguard against heart attack and stroke, following the publication of new guidelines in the United States of who would benefit from taking statins; the first such guidance to be released in the US in a decade.

The updated guidelines are based upon the findings of a new study conducted over four years by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, who decided to ‘think outside the box’ so to speak, as to what constitutes putting someone at a risk of heart attack and/ or stroke.

The researchers, unlike many of their peers who conduct similar studies, shifted their interests away from high cholesterol and instead utilised a formula to calculate risk and looked at a person’s age, gender, race, together with certain health factors like smoking.

“This guideline represents a departure from previous guidelines because it doesn’t focus on specific target levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, although the definition of optimal LDL cholesterol has not changed,” Dr Neil Stone, author of the report, said in a statement.

Dr Stone added: “The likely impact of the recommendations is that more people who would benefit from statins are going to be on them.”

Dr Donald Lloyd-Jones, one of the experts who help to draft the new guidelines, said: “We’ve been undertreating people who need statin therapy. Statins lower cholesterol levels, but what they really target is overall cardiovascular risk.”

More African-Americans – a demographic usually at a higher risk of stroke – could be prescribed statins in accordance to the new guidelines.

Under the guidance, there would now be approximately 44% of men and 22% of women who would be deemed suitable for taking statins – or 33 million Americans.

This is in stark contrast to previous US guidelines that meant only 15% of adults in America were recommended for statin treatment, whereby patients had to have a target set to lower their cholesterol to. These numerical targets have now seemingly been abandoned.

In creating the guidelines, the panel analysed four particular groups who they believed to need statins more than most: patients currently with heart disease, people with LDL levels of 190 or higher due to genetic risk, adults aged between 40 and 75 with type 2 diabetes and older adults with a 10-year risk of heart disease in excess of 7.5%.

Those in the panel also stressed the importance of a “diet pattern” which includes fruit, vegetables and whole grains, with all adults engaging in moderate to vigorous exercise three to four times per week.

Many of the patents on statins have expired, with significantly cheaper generic statins now available. Crestor (rosuvastatin), a statin manufactured by AstraZeneca, still remains under patent however and in 2012 alone the drug had impressive sales of $8.3bn (£5.2bn).

Statins are actually the most commonly prescribed drugs in the UK, used by almost a tenth of the population. As cholesterol is still the primary factor in the process of prescribing statins, it is worth noting that NHS guidelines state that LDL cholesterol should not be higher than 3.0 and overall cholesterol no higher than 5.0.

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