For decades, national guidelines on which Americans should take cholesterol-lowering medications relied heavily on an individual’s level of bad cholesterol (LDL). In 2013, new guidelines moved to treatment based on a person’s overall heart attack risk.
“The data on statins clearly shows that individuals with normal cholesterol levels can also reduce their risk of heart attacks,” said Michael Miedema, MD, MPH, cardiologist with Minneapolis Heart Institute® and principal investigator for a Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® study of the new guidelines.
However, the study found that more than half of the patients had not seen a physician in the two years prior to their heart attacks.
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“The more recent cholesterol guidelines are clearly a big step in the right direction, but we need to have better systems and incentives in place to get patients the assessment and treatments that could potentially be life-saving,” Miedema said.
When the more recent cholesterol guidelines were applied, the patients were twice as likely to be eligible for a statin prior to their heart attacks compared to the older guidelines that relied on cholesterol levels. Seventy-nine percent were statin eligible according to the newer guidelines, compared to 39 percent that qualified by the older guidelines.