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USPSTF Issues Draft Recommendations on Statin Use

New advice says who could benefit from these cholesterol-lowering medications

According to new draft guidance from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, statins will benefit patients between the ages of 40 and 75 years whose risk of cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years is at least 10%.

The Associated Press reports that the task force left some wiggle room, saying certain patients who aren't at quite as high a risk still might benefit and should weigh the pros and cons for themselves. "The benefit from statins is going to be the largest in the people who are at the highest risk," explained Dr. Douglas Owens, a Stanford University professor and task force member.

The recommendations are similar to controversial 2013 guidelines from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology.

The task force said doctors should offer a statin to adults ages 40 to 75 who either smoke or have high cholesterol, suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes, and also have at least a 10% risk of a heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years.

That's a complicated checklist. What if people meet all the criteria except the 10-year risk? Those whose 10-year risk is at least 7.5% might still benefit from a statin, but they should discuss it with their doctor and make their own decision, the task force concluded. (The most common side effect of statins is muscle pain and damage.)

The task force endorsed usage of an online calculator available through the American Heart Association's website. Doctors plug in information about the patient's age, sex, race, and other health conditions in addition to the level of low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C), the so-called bad kind. That's because recent research shows the combination of factors is particularly important — that someone who might not have qualified for statins on the basis of an LDL-C level alone could benefit if other factors raise their overall risk

Source: Associated Press, December 22, 2015.

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