An additional 12.8 million Americans would be eligible for statin drugs based on a new analysis of guidelines developed by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology.

The analysis, published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, concludes almost half of Americans ages 40 to 75 and nearly all men over 60 qualify to consider cholesterol-lowering statin drugs under new heart disease prevention guidelines.

The analysis shows how dramatically the guidelines shift more people toward treatment. Supporters say they reveal the true scope of heart risks in America. Critics have said the guidelines overreach by suggesting medications such as Zocor and Lipitor for such a broad swath of the population, reports the associated press.

For patients with known cardiovascular disease, the new guidelines expand the treatment recommendation to all adults, regardless of the LDL cholesterol level. For primary prevention, whereas both old and new guidelines recommend statin therapy for patients with an LDL cholesterol level of 190 mg per deciliter or higher, the new guidelines also recommend statin therapy in all persons who have an LDL cholesterol level of 70 mg per deciliter or higher and who also have either diabetes or a certain risk level for cardiovascular disease.

Under the new guidelines, 56 million Americans ages 40 to 75 are eligible to consider a statin; 43 million were under the old advice. The study estimates that nearly half a million additional heart attacks and strokes could be prevented over 10 years if statin use was expanded as the guidelines recommend.

Read more about the analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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