Study warns doctors to not focus on cholesterol numbers

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Health checks

A set of new guidelines on controlling cholesterol were released Tuesday and it may influence what doctors order for their patients.

Millions of Americans take a combination of drugs called statins to get their cholesterol down to a specific goal.

New guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology prompts doctors to move away from a focus on numbers to simply getting high-risk people started on the medications.

Dr. Lori Mosca, with the New York Presbyterian Hospital, said, “Don’t be so worried about how far you have to go or how low you have to go with the cholesterol level. But just get the treatment started that’s appropriate for you.”

The guidelines target several groups for whom statins have the greatest chance of helping, like those who’ve had a heart attack or stroke.

They stress it also should help most adults with Type II Diabetes and patients with a genetic predisposition and extremely high levels of unhealthy cholesterol.

Dr. Mosca said, “In addition, there’s really a new target group and those are individuals that fall between the ages of 40 and 75 that have a certain percentage risk of developing heart disease or stroke in the next 10 years.”

Experts say doctors should also look at those people who don’t fall into other categories but have other risk factors, like smoking, high blood pressure or a strong family history.

Officials say targeting this new group is likely to lead to a jump in statin prescriptions.

Dr. Carl Orringer, with the UH Case Medical Center, said, “There may be millions of patients who previously were not considered candidates for statin therapy who will now actually be started on statins.”

While statins can be beneficial, they work best when taken with a heart-healthy lifestyle.

However, studies have shown that only about 50 percent of patients prescribed a statin are still taking it three months later.