Alert
Close

Watch the NASCAR race on Saturday at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Join the Drive to End Hunger!

HIGHLIGHTS

Open

2014 NATIONAL EVENT

Health & Wellness
AARP Auto Buying Program

DRIVER SAFETY

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

Contests and
Sweeps

Safe Driving in 2014 Sweepstakes

Learn how AARP Driver Safety can help you stay safe—and enter for a chance to win $1,000. See official rules. 

Download the ipad App

AARP-iPad-ePub-app

KEEP BRAIN ACTIVE!

AARP Games - Play Now!

Learning Centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.


Arthritis

Heart Disease

Diabetes

Most Popular

Viewed

Debate Over Statins Heats Up as Lipitor Heads Toward a Generic Form

Is a statin the answer to everyone's high cholesterol?

How to calculate your risk

A set of guidelines issued by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) helps doctors decide when to prescribe statins, which provide much of their benefit by lowering LDL, the so-called "bad" cholesterol, Hlatky says.

They factor in LDL levels, signs of coronary disease and risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and too little HDL, the "good" cholesterol. They also use a risk calculator — based on the findings of the huge, multigenerational Framingham Heart Study — to calculate a patient's likelihood of dying from heart disease within the next 10 years.

Statins should be considered for patients with elevated LDL, two or more risk factors and a heightened 10-year risk of dying, the guidelines say.

Reasons to take statins

Many practitioners, however, say the NHLBI guidelines don't go far enough, in light of recent studies suggesting that an even wider range of people might benefit from taking statins.

A landmark clinical study dubbed JUPITER ("Justification for the Use of Statins in Primary Prevention"), followed 17,802 men and women with normal cholesterol but with high levels of C-reactive protein, a sign of inflammation associated with greater risk for heart disease. (That protein is measured in a blood test.)

The trial was halted early because those taking placebos seemed to be at a higher risk for death. Lead author Paul Ridker, Harvard Medical School professor and director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Brigham and Women's Hospital, says the men and women taking statins saw 45 percent fewer heart attacks and strokes than those on placebos, along with a 20 percent reduction in deaths.

But the study has some vociferous critics, who believe statins are overprescribed and think that the risks and expense of taking the drugs outweigh any possible benefit in primary prevention.

Statins don't cut the risk of dying nearly as much as heart-healthy habits do, contends John Abramson, M.D., a lecturer with the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School.

"The healthy lifestyle includes regular exercise, a Mediterranean-style diet, not smoking and drinking in moderation," he says. "People who do that seem to have about a 60 percent lower death rate than people who don't." The United States lags behind other countries in heart health measures despite our high rate of statin use, Abramson observes. "The bottom line is, most of your health is in your own hands," he says. "Don't let other people convince you that they can fix it with other products."

Next: What are the side effects of taking statins for years? >>

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Woman trying on glasses in optometrists shop

Members save up to 60% on eye exams and 30% on glasses at JCPenney Optical.

Prescription medication spilling out of bottle

Members get a free Rx card from AARP® Prescription Discounts provided by Catamaran.

AngiesList

Members can save 25% to 45% on their Angie's List membership.

Caregiving walking

Caregiving can be a lonely journey, but AARP offers resources that can help.