The recommended prescription medication for high cholesterol is usually statin drugs. These drugs are widely prescribed for people with high total cholesterol, and particularly those with high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Recently, it was recommended that people with high levels of the inflammation marker C-reactive protein (hsCRP) in their blood should also be taking statins. High CRP indicates systemic inflammation, another risk factor for heart disease. However, people with high CRP can have normal, and even low, amounts of cholesterol.
To further extend the reach of statin drugs, even obese children are now prescribed statins if their cholesterol levels are high. This has met with some controversy, as there have been no long-term studies on the health effects of long-term statin treatment in children.
A recent study is trying to reign in the statin prescription epidemic by suggesting that statin drugs are overprescribed. The Johns Hopkins study, presented at the American Heart Association’s annual Scientific Sessions, found that almost 95 percent of heart attacks, strokes, or heart-related deaths occurred in people who had a measurable amount of calcium buildup in the arteries.
The researchers found that patients on statin drugs who had no calcium buildup in their arteries only suffered five percent of heart-disease-related events. This means that the drugs may not be offering any protection in these people, yet as many as five percent of all people on statins experience severe side effects, which includes diabetes in some people.
The researchers recommend that only those patients at greatest risk, especially those with high coronary calcium scores, be given statins. Luckily, diet and lifestyle factors like exercise and stress reduction help to lower some of the risk factors for heart disease. Talk with your doctor about your options.