A new study published in March 2016 by McGill University’s George Thanassoulis, MD in the Circulation journal of the American Heart Association suggests that many identified as ‘Low Risk’ by the latest cholesterol treatment guidelines should be taking cholesterol-lowering statins.
The current guidelines for treating cholesterol, published with much fanfare and controversy in November 2013, moved away from targeting treatment to reach a specific cholesterol level and instead include a ‘calculator’ that measures risk. If a person’s risk is lower than 7.5% chance of heart disease in 10 years, statins are NOT recommended. (Details, including a link to the calculator, found in my post: The NEW Guidelines for Cholesterol-Lowering Statin Meds.)
Personally, I fall into the ‘do not take statins’ pool using this calculator as: a) I do not already have cardiovascular disease; b) my LDL (bad) cholesterol is less than 190; c) I do not have diabetes; and d) my 10-year risk is lower than 7.5%.
But according to this NEW March 2016 study, “Individualized Statin Benefit for Determining Statin Eligibility in the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease,” I might be one of the many at ‘low risk’ who should be taking statins!
The new study recommends “an INDIVIDUALIZED statin benefit approach” rather than relying on the calculator; using this approach, thousands who are currently at ‘low risk’ and not treated with statins would instead be treated with statins. According to the study authors, “Statin treatment in this group would be expected to prevent an additional 266,508 cardiovascular events over 10 years.”
Yikes times two.
And it was a large study. The study, “included 2134 participants representing 71.8 million American residents potentially eligible for statins in primary prevention from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the years 2005 to 2010.” The study “compared statin eligibilities using 2 separate approaches: a 10-year risk-based approach (≥7.5% 10-year risk) and an individualized benefit approach (ie, based on predicted absolute risk reduction over 10 years [ARR10] ≥2.3% from randomized, controlled trial data).”
The risk-based approach (the ‘new’ 2013 guidelines that doctors are currently using) identified 15.0 million Americans who should take statins, versus 24.6 million Americans who should take statins according to the benefit-based approach. Thus, “the benefit-based approach identified 9.5 million lower-risk (<7.5% 10-year risk) Americans not currently eligible for statin treatment who had the same or greater expected benefit from statins (≥2.3% ARR10) compared with higher-risk individuals.
That’s 10 million Americans who should be taking statins who right now are not.
And I’m probably one of them! Because the study goes on to say, “This lower-risk/acceptable-benefit group includes younger individuals (mean age, 55.2 versus 62.5 years) with higher low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (140 versus 133 mg/dL). Statin treatment in this group would be expected to prevent an additional 266,508 cardiovascular events over 10 years.
Yikes times three! As this describes me: I’m under 55 and my LDL is 145.
I guess it’s time to put in a call to my cardiologist and ask what he thinks of this study. I do not want to go on a statin medication, but I do want to understand his thoughts on both this study and what an “individualized benefit approach” to treating my high cholesterol looks like.