WEDNESDAY, March 19, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly 13 million more Americans will be eligible to take cholesterol-lowering statin drugs under new guidelines, and most of those additional users will be older than 60, researchers say.
The American Heart Association guidelines were released last November and expanded the criteria for statin use to include people with an increased risk of developing heart disease over a 10-year period.
Statin drugs include atorvastatin (sold under the brand name Lipitor), simvastatin (Zocor), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol) and rosuvastatin (Crestor).
In this study, researchers used data from more than 3,700 Americans, aged 40 to 75, to determine how the new guidelines would affect the number of people who use statins.
"By our estimate, there might be an uptick in usage as a result of the guidelines, from 43.2 million people to 56 million, which is nearly half of the U.S. population between the ages of 40 and 75," lead author Michael Pencina, a professor of biostatistics at Duke University's Clinical Research Institute, said in a university news release.
A large increase in usage would occur among people older than 60, with 77 percent eligible for statins under the new guidelines compared to 48 percent under the previous standards.
The use of statins among people aged 40 to 60 would increase only from 27 percent to 30 percent, the researchers said.
Men aged 60 to 75 who are not taking statins and do not have heart disease would be most affected by the new recommendations, with the number who are eligible increasing from about 30 percent to 87 percent, according to the study, which was published online March 19 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The use of statins among healthy women in this age group would rise from 21 percent to 53 percent.
On the other hand, the researchers also found that about 1.6 million adults who were previously eligible for statins would no longer be candidates for the drugs. Most of these people are young adults who have elevated cholesterol but a low 10-year risk of heart disease.
"Recommendations are just that -- recommendations," Pencina said. "These guidelines correctly call for a thorough discussion between the doctor and patient about the risks and benefits of statins. It's not like everybody who meets the guidelines should all of a sudden go on statins."
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about statins.