BOSTON, July 16 (UPI) -- A study examining new guidelines for using statins to prevent cardiovascular events shows that tens of thousands of heart attacks, strokes or deaths from cardiovascular disease could be avoided by prescribing the drugs to more at-risk patients.
The new criteria for prescribing statins, released by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) in 2013 have been estimated to increase the number of patients eligible for the drugs by as many as 13 million. There are some concerns, however, over exposing people to the risks of using the drugs for no good reason.
"Using 10-year follow-up data from asymptomatic patients enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study, our paper demonstrates that these new guidelines -- which represent a shift in the treatment approach for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease -- indeed improve identification of adults at higher risk for future cardiovascular events who were not captured by previous guidelines," Dr. Udo Hoffmann of Massachusetts General Hospital's Department of Radiology and the Division of Cardiology, said in a press release. "We estimate that between 41,000 and 63,000 cardiovascular events -- heart attacks, strokes or deaths from cardiovascular disease -- would be prevented over a 10-year period."
The new set of of guidelines differs from those issued in 2004 by the National Cholesterol Education Program by focusing on lowering LDL cholesterol with the use of statins and expanding the prevention efforts to all cardiovascular diseases rather than just heart disease.
Researchers used data from the Framingham Heart Study to compare the potential preventive effects of using statins under the new guidelines with the old ones. Of 2,354 people in the study, about 941 fit the criteria for statin prescriptions, with 598 of them newly eligible for them. All 598 of those people had the same risk factor for a cardiovascular event under the new guidelines as those eligible for statins under the old criteria.
Additionally, CT scans of the study's participants showed that 42 percent had coronary artery calcification, or CAC, which can cause a heart attack. Of those people, 85 percent would be eligible for statins under the new guidelines, compared with just 39 percent with the old ones.
The researchers note, however, that 93 percent of people designated by the new guidelines as statin-eligible will not have a cardiovascular event in the next 10 years, but nearly 30 percent with CAC would not qualify.
"These findings illustrate how well the most recent primary prevention guidelines, using updated risk-factor algorithms, have improved our ability to achieve the precision medicine goal of delivering the right treatments to the right patients for the prevention of cardiovascular disease outcomes," said Christopher O'Donnell, of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "Future research will examine the additional benefits of newer genomic and imaging tests to administer even more precise and safe preventive therapies."