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Earlier this month, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) released new cholesterol guidelines that call for an increased focus on preventing heart disease through risk assessment, lifestyle management and controlling cholesterol levels.
For the first time in nearly a decade, the guidelines recommend that doctors shift their focus from trying to specifically lower a patient’s cholesterol level to lowering their overall risk factors.
“What we are doing now is looking to treat groups of patients that are at risk rather than chasing cholesterol numbers,” says Hadley Wilson, MD, of Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, who thinks the guidelines will help doctors care for high-risk patients who formerly may not have received the proper treatment.
“We probably were undertreating folks with risk factors for heart disease in the past, and I believe (these guidelines) are a good thing,” says Wilson.
The guidelines outline four questions that cardiologists should ask their patients when determining their overall risk of heart disease:
If a patient answers “yes” to any of these questions, he or she should be prescribed statins, a popular cholesterol-lowering drug, to lower the risk of heart attack or stroke. Under the new guidelines, twice as many Americans could be prescribed statins.
“There is certainly a little bit of controversy about this, but I think the overall message is good,” Wilson said. “We need to be more attentive to treating patients, or groups of patients, rather than just being focused on cholesterol numbers.”