Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs: The New Recommendations

If you're not already on medicine to lower your cholesterol, there's a chance you could be soon.

Two groups- the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology- have released new recommendations when it comes to who should be on medication to lower their cholesterol.

Statins are widely-prescribed drugs used to lower cholesterol.  They go by a number of different name brands, as we found at Brown's Pharmacy on Scranton's South Side.  Until now, a doctor would have prescribed one to you if you had established heart disease, or what doctors call a "target-oriented" drug.  New guidelines released this week suggest statins should be instead "risk-factor" oriented.

"The key question you have to ask is, do you have  a risk for heart disease? If you do, how do you bring down your cholesterol?  That's what these guidelines talk about," said Dr. Madhava Rao, who showed us a copy of the guidelines.  He's the director of non-invasive cardiology at Geisinger CMC in Scranton.

He says he's been waiting for these updates, since the last guidelines were nearly 10 years old.  Dr. Rao says the new recommendations call for prescribing statins for four groups: one, those with heart disease.  Two, those who have a family history of heart disease.

"The third group they're looking at is people with diabetes.  whether you have heart disease or not, if you have diabetes and you're between the ages of 40 and 75, you need to be on a statin," Dr. Rao says.

"The fourth group are people who have risk factors: high blood pressure, family history, anybody who would benefit from statin therapy."

Dr. Rao says statins have a few side effects but are generally safe, and can be prescribed indefinitely.  And he responded to those who might think the recommendations are little more than a boost to benefit pharmaceutical companies.

"I don't think so.  This is evidence based medicine.  Experts have come up with guidelines based on evidence-based medicine.  I don't think it's driven by industry," he said.

Some experts are speculating the new recommendations could double the amount of people currently on medication to lower their cholesterol.  Dr. Rao thinks, over time, they could lead to fewer heart attacks and fewer strokes.

Filed in: Healthwatch 16

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