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What the new guidelines for cholesterol medication mean for you

Category: Heart Health and Cholesterol

A major shift in the treatment of those with high risk for heart disease has been announced by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. For people with poor results on cholesterol tests, this may mean a change in how doctors treat the condition. Read on to find more information regarding the changes made to the way that heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular issues will now be treated.

A focus on risk factors
While heart disease treatments have been focused on low-density lipoproteins, or "bad cholesterol," for many years, a new shift in treatment places more emphasis on risk factors, noted CNN. New treatment guidelines will be focused on specific risk factors for heart disease, including types 1 and 2 diabetes and a 10-year risk factor for heart disease.

While the numbers for LDL cholesterol found in blood tests will still play a part in the way that heart disease is managed, the new focus will be on a more diverse set of criteria. Doctors will now be advised to base their treatments on a set of four questions:

  1. Do you have heart disease?
  2. Do you have diabetes, and if so, Type 1 or Type 2?
  3. Is your LDL cholesterol more than 190 milligrams per deciliter of blood?
  4. Is your 10-year risk of a heart attack greater than 7.5%?

The fourth question is determined by a simple equation that studies various factors relating to the likelihood of a heart attack. The equation can be found online or can be used by a doctor to determine the likelihood of a cardiac event.

"We were able to generate very robust risk equations for both non-Hispanic white men and women as well as African-American men and women," said Donald Lloyd-Jones, Ph. D., chairman of the committee that developed the new equation. "Those equations factor in age, sex, race, total and HDL ('good') cholesterol levels, blood pressure levels, blood pressure treatment status as well as diabetes and current smoking status."

New ways to lower LDL cholesterol
Blood testing with lower levels of LDL cholesterol present is still the main goal of heart treatments, but the ways that the condition will be treated are now different. In addition to an increased emphasis on healthy lifestyle, doctors will now be more encouraged to prescribe statins, a medicine that lowers cholesterol. The new guidelines could mean that twice as many Americans will now be prescribed statins for their heart health if they fit the above criteria.

Approximately 32 million Americans now take statins to manage their heart disease risk factors, according to CBS. The new guidelines could have more than 70 million Americans taking these medications. While this is not a change for many who are already using these medicines, many new patients will likely be given statins. For those who have questions about their cholesterol levels, a lab test online can show whether LDL levels are high enough to be considered a risk factor.

Statins have been found to be largely safe for the majority of those who take them, though they have been linked to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and liver damage in some patients. The Mayo Clinic noted that these severe symptoms are uncommon and most people who have side effects experience joint pain and other minor issues.

For most Americans, these new changes in heart disease treatment will not come at a great cost. CNN noted that statins are often available for about $10 for a three-month supply in generic versions.

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