New guidelines issued on Tuesday by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, call for twice as many Americans to consider taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, which are also shown to reduce heart risks in other ways.

The biggest change is a new formula developed for doctors to estimate a patient’s risk by looking not only at their high cholesterol level, but also at their age, gender, race and whether the person is a smoker. As a result of the new guidelines, an estimated one-third of U.S. adults will meet the new threshold to consider taking statins; a considerable jump from the current 15 percent of adults.

The new guidelines also take a look at stroke risk for the first time, in addition to heart attack risk, which is another reason for the lower threshold. The objective of the guidelines is to redefine the treatment goal for patients at high risk for both heart attack and stroke. Instead of prescribing statins to patients who have reached a specific cholesterol level, there are many more factors being considered to help people who can most benefit from these types of drugs.

“Moving away from a number-directed therapy to targeting statin therapy to those most at risk for cardiovascular events, makes sense clinically,” said Dr. Michael Chen, cardiologist at Washington Adventist and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers, in response to the new guidelines.

“For instance, I have many patients who come in with a heart attack and when checked, they may not have high cholesterol. The new guidelines now state that those heart attack patients should be treated with a statin irrespective of their cholesterol, which is something I firmly believe in,” said Dr. Chen.

“These medications are very effective in terms of lowering cholesterol and preventing serious events like death, heart attack and stroke in patients,” added Dr. David Brill, cardiologist at Washington Adventist Hospital. “In fact, the death rate from heart disease declined 30 percent from 1998 to 2007, and I think much of that is attributable to this class of medications.”

If you have questions about how to best manage your cholesterol, please speak with your doctor.

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