November 13th, 2013
08:56 AM ET

Guidelines May Put You On Cholesterol Meds

If you're not on medicine to lower your cholesterol yet, you might be soon.

In what's being called a tectonic shift in the way doctors will treat high cholesterol, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology on Tuesday released new treatment guidelines calling for a focus on risk factors rather than just cholesterol levels.

The new guidelines could double the amount of people on medication to lower their cholesterol, experts say. Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta breaks down the math and explains what this means for patients.

"This is an enormous shift in policy as it relates to who should be treated for high levels of cholesterol," said Dr. Steven Nissen, chief of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.

The biggest change from the old guidelines, he says: Ignore the numbers.

"For many years, the goal was to get the 'bad' cholesterol levels - or LDL levels - below 100," Nissen said. "Those targets have been completely eliminated in the new guidelines, and the threshold for treatment has been eliminated."

In their place, the guidelines suggest using specific risk factors to determine who should be treated with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, and who should simply make lifestyle changes.

Among the four questions to ask to determine risks: Do you have heart disease? Do you have diabetes (Type 1 or 2)? Do you have a bad cholesterol level more than 190? And is your 10-year risk of a heart attack greater than 7.5%?

According to the new guidelines, if you answered yes to any of those four questions, you should be on a statin. Period.

Lenox Hill Hospital's Department of Cardiology Dr. Tara Narula weighs in saying, statins are still not a "cure-all medication." (SEE VIDEO BELOW)

“I think the important message is that, you can lower your risk with taking statin medications, but you're not lowering it to zero," she says. "You still need to take care of all of the other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like blood pressure and smoking and diabetes.”

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