High Cholesterol and Statin Drugs: Testing Risk and Benefit Guidelines

Women's Health

Understanding Statin Guidelines

Your doctor may have recommended healthy lifestyle changes and medications called statins. These drugs are designed to reduce cholesterol that’s too high. A couple of examples include Lipitor® (atorvastatin) and Crestor® (rosuvastatin).

Established guidelines can help you and your doctor decide if you might benefit from statins. Researchers are now looking to see how well these guidelines help doctors prescribe statins to the right patients, and in two recent studies, they put the ACC/AHA guidelines to the test.

In the first study, researchers compared the ACC/AHA guidelines with another set of standards for identifying individuals at risk for heart disease—National Cholesterol Education Program’s 2004 Updated Third Report of the Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (ATP III) guidelines. They found that the ACC/AHA guidelines more accurately helped doctors recognize patients at risk for heart disease. (1)

In another study, researchers looked specifically at whether the ACC/AHA guidelines helped doctors and patients make cost-effective decisions about using statins. Cost-effectiveness includes whether statin treatment was worth the money spent and whether patients at lower risk of heart disease and less likely to benefit from statins were spared the expense. The researchers found that the ACC/AHA guidelines for statin use were acceptably cost-effective—good news for anyone currently taking statins and those considering treatment. (2)

Peace of Mind

Your doctor will still use his or her best judgment, based on your personal circumstances, to decide if statin drugs are a good option to help you lower your cholesterol. But it’s reassuring to know that the tools your provider uses to determine your risk for heart disease and eligibility for statin drugs, the ACC/AHA guidelines, stand up when put to the test for accuracy and managing healthcare costs. Don’t forget, however, that in addition to medication, healthy eating and exercise can go a long way to helping you lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.


  1. Pursnani A, Massaro JM, D’Agostino RB Sr, et al. Guideline-Based Statin Eligibility, Coronary Artery Calcification, and Cardiovascular Events. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2015 July 14;314(2):134-41.
  2. Pandya A, Sy S, Cho S, Weinstein MC, Gaziano TA. Cost-effectiveness of 10-Year Risk Thresholds for Initiation of Statin Therapy for Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2015 July 14;314(2):142-50.

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