For years we’ve been told to watch our cholesterol levels: Know your “bad” (LDL) and “good” (HDL) numbers, and keep that LDL below 100. If your numbers were too high, your doctor likely prescribed medications, known as statins, to lower that cholesterol level and, along with it, reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Now, experts from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology are proposing a revolutionary change in the way doctors manage cholesterol levels. Cardiologist Dr. John Bisognano says these new guidelines recommend that doctors consider patients’ risk factors for cardiovascular disease, rather than focusing on the numbers and prescribing medications to get those levels to their targets.
The new guidelines give doctors a risk calculator that looks at:
- Heart disease: Have you had a heart attack or does heart disease run in your family? Do you have high blood pressure?
- Diabetes: Do you have it? Are you managing it well?
- Cholesterol: Do you have high cholesterol? Is your LDL over 190?
- Heart attack: How great is your risk for one in the 10 years?
Your doctor will combine that information with your age, gender, and history of smoking to decide if statins are right for you. (Click here to try the calculator yourself.). There are several ways for you and your doctor to calculate risk; they are all similar and informative.
Using this new model, doctors expect to see an increase in the number of people taking statins, which studies show are highly effective and can save lives. And that’s what it’s really all about.
These medications work best when combined with healthy lifestyle choices: Eat well, quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise 40 minutes a day at least three times a week.
If you have questions about whether statins are right for you, talk with your primary care doctor.
Don’t have a doctor? Click here for help finding one.
John Bisognano, M.D., Ph.D., is a preventive cardiologist and director of outpatient cardiology care with the URMC Heart and Vascular Center.