Remember when cholesterol was defined by a simple number? No more. Cholesterol is now defined as a combination of who you are and your lifestyle. As a result, more Americans could be taking medication to lower it, says Jennifer Robinson, professor of epidemiology and internal medicine.
Robinson served on the expert national panel that reviewed the previous guidelines and came up with the new ones. She notes that the old guidelines focused mainly on lowering patients’ bad LDL cholesterol to a certain number. The new guidelines, recently announced by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, focus on patients’ risks of heart attack and stroke. The new guidelines target four high-risk groups:
- People who have had heart attacks, other heart disease, strokes, or artery blockages;
- People with genetically high cholesterol levels;
- People with diabetes; and
- People at high risk for heart disease and stroke.
For these high-risk groups, doctors are advising statins—medications that block the liver from making too much cholesterol. Robinson estimates that about 32 million Americans fit into one of these four groups, but only half of those with heart disease and diabetes are currently taking statins.