Last week, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association released new guidelines that aim to greatly increase the use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. Currently, such medications are recommended for individuals with a 20% chance of heart attack in the next decade, totaling approximately 36 million Americans. The new guidelines lower this threshold, recommending statins to individuals with a 7.5% risk of a stroke or heart attack within the next decade. This is the first time that those at risk for stroke have been explicitly included in the population set to benefit from statins. Altogether, the new guidelines aim to prescribe statins to as many as 70 million people, almost doubling the current population of statins users.
Some researchers have questioned the benefits of statins for patients with lower risk of heart disease and stroke, and whether these benefits would outweigh the side effects of statin therapy. The new guidelines will also have a huge impact on the pharmaceutical industry; Americans spent $21.3 billion on cholesterol-lowering drugs in 2010.