Now 85, Helen Thomas went on statins about five years ago. She had the same issue as millions of Americans: high cholesterol.
“I did have, yes, the doctor recommended that I take them. A lot of my friends had been on statins,” says Thomas.
Statins proved to be a game-changer when it comes to treating cholesterol.
“They are the most proven drugs, with the most data behind them that show they actually reduce cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, stroke and cardiovascular death by reducing the cholesterol,” says Dr. Brian Taschner, cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.
Now the rules are changing when it comes to who takes them. New guidelines were recently released by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association.
“They make it easier for physicians. The previous guidelines have a somewhat difficult algorithm to memorize, to figure out which cholesterol goals were good for which patients. These guidelines try to simplify the process,” says Dr. Taschner.
For years doctors prescribed statins based mostly on a patient’s cholesterol levels, especially the LDL or bad cholesterol. The new guidelines have a broader focus- looking at patient’s overall risk and then breaking statin use into four categories based on statistics.
The first group covers people with pre-existing heart disease; the second, people with significant, elevated cholesterol. The third category includes people who are middle age with type 2 diabetes. And the fourth group is primary prevention: which is people who don’t have cardiovascular disease, but are at high risk to within 10 years.
“If they’re in one of these four groups, they should be treated. And we decide on more intense or less intense statin therapy, rather than targeting a number which we were doing before,” says Dr. Taschner.
The number of statin-takers under these guidelines will jump from about 15% today to 31%. Doctor’s hope playing the stats will help people like Thomas lower the odds of a heart health crisis.
“It’s been alright - so it’s been normal within the normal range,” says Thomas.