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CDC: Half of People Who Need Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Aren’t Taking Them

Blacks, Mexican-Americans less likely to use recommended cholesterol medications

More than one-third of American adults are eligible to take cholesterol-lowering medications under the current guidelines or were already taking them –– but nearly half of them are not, according to a report by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Blacks and Mexican-Americans are less likely than whites to be taking cholesterol-lowering medications.

Data from 2007 through 2014 show a decline in the number of Americans with high blood levels of cholesterol, the report says. There also has been a recent increase in the use of cholesterol-lowering medications. But a high blood level of “bad” low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) remains a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke in the U.S.

Some people with high LDL-C levels and who have or are at risk of heart disease are eligible for cholesterol-lowering medications, according to the CDC. They should also make lifestyle changes, such as getting regular exercise, eating a heart-healthy diet, and losing weight. Yet fewer than half of people eligible for or who were taking cholesterol-lowering medications make these changes, the report finds.

Getting 65% of Americans to manage their high levels of LDL-C by 2017 is one of the major targets of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Million Hearts initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes.

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend cholesterol-lowering medications for four groups of adults:

  • People with heart disease, a prior heart attack, some types of stroke, or angina
  • People with LDL-C levels of 190 mg/dL or more
  • People 40 to 75 years of age with diabetes and LDL-C levels of 70 to 189 mg/dL
  • People 40 to 75 years of age with LDL-C levels of 70 to 189 mg/dL and an estimated 10-year heart disease risk of 7.5% or more

The CDC researchers examined data from the 2005–2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Overall, 36.7% of U.S. adults –– 78.1 million people aged 21 years or older –– were eligible for cholesterol-lowering medications or were already taking them. Within this group, 55.5% were currently taking a cholesterol-lowering medication; 46.6% reported making lifestyle changes; 37.1% reported making lifestyle modifications and taking medication; and 35.5% reported doing neither.

Of Mexican-Americans who were eligible for cholesterol-lowering medications, 52.9% were not taking such drugs. Blacks who did not have a routine place for health care had the lowest rate (5.7%) of taking recommended cholesterol-lowering medications. People who said they already had adopted a heart-healthy lifestyle (about 80%) were the group most likely to be taking cholesterol-lowering medications.

While the study included people taking all forms of cholesterol-lowering medications, nearly 90% of those receiving medication were taking a statin drug.

Source: CDC; December 3, 2015.

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