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The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology on Tuesday released new guidelines for the way doctors treat high cholesterol. Industry experts at the highly respected Cleveland Clinic say the new guidelines could double the number of people on medications to lower their cholesterol.
The biggest change calls for a focus on risk factors rather than just cholesterol levels. The updated recommendations encourage doctors to consider age, weight, blood pressure, and things like whether a patient smokes or has diabetes.
"We really focus on those most likely to benefit," Dr. Neil Stone of Northwestern University, chair of the committee that wrote the new guidelines, said in a statement. "We were not concerned with treating more or less people. We were concerned with treating the people who would benefit the most."
About one-quarter of Americans over 45 now take statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs, a number set to grow. The new recommendations mean an estimated 33 million Americans who don't have cardiovascular diseases, but have a 7.5% or higher risk for heart attack or stroke over the next decade, are likely to receive a prescription for statins.
The aim is to reduce the number of people at risk for cardiovascular-related disease and death. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. One in four deaths, or roughly 600,000 annually in the United States, is attributed to heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additionally, some 700,000 Americans suffer heart attacks every year and another 130,000 die from stroke. Costs associated with coronary heart disease in the United States-from healthcare costs to lost productivity-exceed $100 billion.
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