New statin guidelines: What consumers need to know

January 17, 2014

This past fall, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released new guidelines for preventing heart disease and stroke. It’s important to understand these guidelines in order to have a conversation with one's healthcare provider while considering statin therapy.

Dr. John W. Shuck, Bayhealth cardiologist, helps explain the new guidelines with the following questions and answers:

What do these guidelines mean? With the goal of preventing heart disease and stroke, the new guidelines focus on four main areas: obesity, cholesterol, lifestyle, and risk assessment (how likely one is to experience a stroke or other heart-related problem).  The patient's healthcare provider will use a special calculation to help determine risk factors.

What is new in these guidelines? Providers now have a helpful formula to measure risk in African-American patients, a group that tends to have more heart disease and stroke than the general population. They now believe that a wider range of patients would benefit from statin therapy. For example, the guidelines recommend statins for patients who have had a stroke.

In the past, healthcare providers discussed cholesterol numbers, or levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol. Previous guidelines focused on getting the LDL below a certain level. Now, the overall picture is more important than a single number. The healthcare provider will help the client look at all parts of his or her lifestyle and decide whether statins could help.

For those who have a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol or are smokers, statins may be advised.

Are statins safe? Are they expensive? Statins are one of the most researched medications available. Other drugs also lower cholesterol, but statins are the group of drugs which are most known about. Research studies have included thousands of patients over many years. Side effects are generally accepted to be very low.

Generic versions of statins are very effective and can keep costs low. A three-month supply of statins can cost around $10 at local pharmacies.

Are there other changes a person can make to improve heart health instead of taking pills? While adding physical activity to one's daily routine will make a major change in heart health, an individual may need medication to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Statins can help a person take the first step toward a healthier cardiovascular system. In conjunction with this regimen, make a point to walk 30 minutes each day.

Those with questions about whether statins are right for them should talk to their healthcare providers. Those who need a provider should call 1-866-BAY-DOCS.

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