Elderly should take cholesterol-lowering statins: US study

People who are diagnosed at a young age with high cholesterol may be prescribed statin medications.

Nearly everyone aged 66 to 75 should consider taking cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke, new guidelines published Monday said.

A total of 97 percent of people in the age group, and 100 percent of men, should be on the medication even if their cholesterol levels are normal, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association.

The research is based on controversial recommendations made late last year by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, which called for more adults without heart disease to take medication to prevent future health problems.

The guidelines "are a significant change from prior guidelines that relied heavily on levels of bad cholesterol to determine who to treat," lead author Michael Miedema, a cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute, said.

Not only do the new guidelines recommend statins -- such as Lipitor -- for all people with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or high levels of bad cholesterol, but also for healthy adults whose risk of heart attack or stroke is more than 7.5 percent over the next 10 years.

Age, gender, race and risk factors were all taken into account in the risk calculator.

"Older individuals will likely cross the 7.5 percent threshold based on age alone, even if they have normal cholesterol levels and no other cardiovascular risk factors," Miedema said.

The study, which involved more than 6,000 Americans age 66 to 90, did not provide a recommendation for people older than 75, who accounted for more than half of the study group.

"We don't have great data on the efficacy of statin medications in the elderly so the guidelines drew a cut-off for the recommendations at age 75," Miedema said, emphasizing that research was needed for the age group.