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Statin Drug Controversy

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Last week the nation's top heart organizations released new guidelines on who should get cholesterol lowering drugs- and a new online calculator.

Now doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital are raising concerns that the calculator overestimates the risk of heart attack or stroke - which could result in patients taking drugs they don't need.

Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic says cardiologists should hold off on implementing the new guidelines.

"Let independent scientists examine the risk calculator because we're talking about the treatment of tens of millions of Americans with medications."

Doctors used to rely on a specific cholesterol levels to determine which patients needed statins. The new guidelines recommend statins for four high risk groups including:

  • patients with cardiovascular disease
  • those with a bad cholesterol 190 or higher
  • patients between 40 and 75 with Type 2 diabetes
  • patients with a 10 year risk of heart attack or stroke of at least 7.5% according to the risk calculator

Experts who wrote the guidelines are defending them saying the groups in the studies the Brigham researchers looked at were much healthier than Americans in general.

"Right now can the physician can use as the way we indicated the answer is yes," says Dr. Neil Stone of Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Stone says no estimate is perfect and doctors need to look at each patient to asses their risk and make the call on whether medication is right for them.

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