American cardiologists are in a heated debate over new heart health guidelines that could make nearly 13 million Americans eligible for statin medications.
Researchers at Duke University calculated exactly how many more people may find themselves on a prescription under these new and less strict guidelines. The data measures heart disease risk factors and heart disease rates among 3,773 people in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2005 and 2010. About 56 million Americans between the ages of 40 to 75 would be eligible for statins, compared to 43.2 million under the older, more restrictive protocol.
This includes nearly all men over age 60 who would qualify for this cholesterol-lowering medication. The findings were published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine’s online edition.
Dr. Neil Stone, a professor of preventive cardiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine who chaired the committee issuing the new guidelines, told Reuters, “The risk estimator doesn’t determine the statin prescription. It determines the need for a risk discussion.”
Most of the newly accrued under these revised standards will be individuals who do not have a family history of heart disease, but rather may take the meds to prevent future heart attacks — about 10 million people to be exact. The protocol has also been revised to be specific for race and gender categories.
The authors estimate that the increased number of people taking statins would result in 475,000 fewer heart attack events over ten years in the country.
Dr. Paul Ridker and Dr. Nancy Cook of Brigham and Women’s Hospital have made controversial remarks suggesting flaws in this new risk index. They issued a statement noting that most people newly suggested for statins do not have high cholesterol but smoke or have high blood pressure. Those problems should be addressed as lifestyle changes before trying medications, they said.
Similar recommendations are also made in the paper.
Thus, whether to use the medications will still have to be decided by the doctor and patient, and time will tell how doctors will heed these new guidelines.
S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, http://Facebook.com/TheReporterandTheGirl and visit her website at http://www.SCRhyne.com