Local doctor weighs in on Statin treatment

High cholesterol can raise the risk of a heart attack. Statin therapy can lower that risk. But now comes word that same drug may also help prevent stroke. New guidelines just released may have physicians prescribing one of the{} statin medications to millions more Americans.

Doctors now understand that while statins lower cholesterol levels what these drugs really target is overall cardiovascular risk, including the risk of stroke. That understanding could benefit another 33 million Americans.

"Statins are very potent drugs. And the more that we've tested them, the more populations have been added to people who can benefit," said doctor Corah Lewis who works in the Department of Preventive Medicine at UAB.{}{}{}{}

In 2002, it was recommended that Americans with a risk of 20 percent or higher for heart or stroke should take statins. Now it's recommended that anyone with a risk factor of just 7.5 percent or higher. That leads many doctors to believe some 33 million Americans are being under treated. "The new risk equation takes data from several different studies and puts it together as a way to be more precise about calculating the risks," said Lewis.

Not only do the new statin guidelines recommend therapy for people forty to seventy-five years old with a 7.5 percent risk or higher, the recommendations also include these groups:

People with type one or type two diabetes who are 40 to 75 years old. And people 21 and older who have a very high level of bad cholesterol.

But doctor Lewis warns, "It comes down to how many people do you want to treat to prevent one case of disease. So at a certain point it becomes a judgement. You can't treat everybody."

The risks associated with this drug include muscle inflammation and liver problems.