Cholesterol drugs: Do you need them, or not? – commentary

Cholesterol drugs: Do you need them, or not? – by Elizabeth O’Brien

New heart-disease guidelines leave doctors and patients confused about statins.

Elizabeth O’Brien

Many doctors and patients were surprised last November when two major medical groups upended one central element of the traditional approach to warding off heart disease. With the release of new guidelines, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology shifted away from the prior focus on “bad cholesterol”—and proposed changes to the way doctors prescribe statins, the highly successful cholesterol-fighting medications.

The guidelines recommend a more holistic approach, but some critics said they could greatly increase the number of patients taking statin medication. Now that the dust from the ensuing brouhaha has begun to settle, what should patients expect when they visit the doctor?  

For more than 20 years, doctors have been telling patients that to lower their risk for heart attack, stroke and death from heart disease, they must reduce their levels of LDL, known as “bad cholesterol,” to less than 100 milligrams per deciliter or even, in some cases, less than 70. To that end, among people age 50 to 64, about 30% of men and 22% of women currently have prescriptions for cholesterol-fighting drugs.  [Read more]

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