21 November 2013 New Treatment Guidelines for Cholesterol

Last week, the nation’s leading heart organizations, The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, released new cholesterol guidelines for reducing atherosclerotic cardiovascular risk, and the changes from the previous guidelines (last updated in 2004) are substantial.

One of the biggest changes is that the guidelines have moved away from attaining target cholesterol levels. For too long, according to these organizations, Americans have been encouraged to focus on laboratory numbers. Where people were getting hung up, according to new research, is that it’s not about numbers, as they don’t always accurately assess heart risks. More and more studies have shown that improving one’s lab profile with drugs was not equivalent to lowering heart risks.

There is, however, one exception to the numbers rule. Those with very high levels of harmful cholesterol (LDL) must be diligent about targets. The new guidelines have set that LDL level at 190 milligrams per deciliter.

The underlying message to this change is that the “know your number” campaign is no longer relevant to everyone and that it is no longer necessary to take medications just to get a number to an arbitrary level.

Another important change is the approach to understanding one’s overall risk of heart disease and stroke. A new online calculator is now available to help understand risk. According to the new guidelines, if one’s 10-year risk of heart disease or stroke is 7.5 percent or higher, then one should be treated with drugs.

Third, in light of the studies that have shown how drugs may lower LDL numbers but fail to actually reduce risk of heart disease or stroke, the new guidelines emphasize a distinction between proven and unproven medications. They suggest that people use statins, a drug class with clear evidence that it lowers risk in many different groups of patients. Therefore, if one is using drug therapy to combat risk, it must be the right, proven drugs. It is important to talk with your doctor about any and all medications you take. Ask if you are using statins.

One last note, these new guidelines are part of a “total package” of recommendations by these organizations to reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke that includes moderate exercise and a healthy diet. That part hasn’t gone away.

Ryan Newhouse

Ryan Newhouse is the Marketing Director for MyNetDiary and writes for a variety of publications. He wants you to check out MyNetDiary on Instagram!

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