If you have diabetes, don’t be surprised if your doctor prescribes statins in 2014.
In what has been described as a potentially-seismic shift in health policy, the American Heart Association and several other medical groups have changed the guidelines for the use of statins, a group of popular cholesterol-lowering drugs. According to the new guidelines, doctors should no longer wait for a patient’s LDL (bad) cholesterol level to reach above 130 milligrams per deciliter to begin prescribing statins, according to an NPR report. Instead, doctors should think about prescribing statins for specific groups of patients who will benefit from the cholesterol-lowering drugs, including people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes between the ages of 40 and 75.
Doing away with a target cholesterol level for statins is expected to double the number of people in the U.S. on the drugs. At the moment, there is no clear number of how many Americans have been prescribed statins, but estimates range between 15 million and almost 30 million.
Statins are generally considered safe enough to take over for a lifetime, but the drugs have been associated with some side effects, including elevated blood sugar. A 2012 Women’s Health Initiative study of 153,000 women on statins found that use of the drugs alone increased the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 48%. Still, it’s believed that the benefits of statins in lowering the risk of stroke and heart disease far outweigh the risks.
In addition to people with diabetes between the ages of 40 and 75, the guidelines also suggest statin use for several other groups: any patient who is more than 7.5% likely to have a heart attack or stroke within 10 years, has cardiovascular disease or symptoms that indicate clogged arteries, or is aged 20 to 75 with a LDL cholesterol number above 190.