Heart Health

Millions More Adults Could Start Using Statins

Up to 12.8 million Americans may begin taking statins thanks to new guidelines for using the drugs, according to a research team led by scientists from Duke University.

The finding is the first to make specific predictions based on the American Heart Association’s new guidelines, which were issued in November.

The investigators, whose findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that most of the additional users would be people over 60.

“We sought to do a principled, scientific study to try to answer how the new guidelines might affect statin use, particularly as they focused eligibility on patients with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” said lead author Michael J. Pencina, Ph.D., professor of biostatistics at the Duke Clinical Research Institute. “By our estimate, there might be an uptake in usage as a result of the guidelines, from 43.2 million people to 56 million, which is nearly half of the U.S. population between the ages of 40 and 75.”

Investigators, including scientists from McGill University and Boston University, used data from the Pencina and colleagues from McGill University and Boston University used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) for their analysis. They looked at 3,773 participants between the ages of 40-75 who had provided detailed medical information, including fasting cholesterol levels from blood tests.

The latest guidelines expand the criteria for the use of statins include people who have 10-year elevated risk of developing heart disease, including stroke. Under the new measures, 77 percent of people over 60 would be recommended for statin use. Most of those affected would be older men.

“The biggest surprise of the research was the age-dependent split for those affected by the new guidelines,” Pencina said. “We anticipated that the impact would be age-dependent, but not to the degree observed.”

However, he cautioned against an automatic decision to begin taking statins.

“Recommendations are just that – recommendations,” Pencina said. “These guidelines correctly call for a thorough discussion between the doctor and patient about the risks and benefits of statins. It’s not like everybody who meets the guidelines should all of a sudden go on statins.”


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