February 18, 2011
More people than ever take cholesterol-lowering statins
Roughly one in four adults 45 and older now take a cholesterol-lowering statin drug, compared with just one in 50 about 15 years ago, according to a report released this weekby the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that doesn’t mean the drugs are for everyone, and as we'vepreviously reported, some experts worry that too many people are being put on the drugs.
Statins—such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor), and simvastatin (Zocor and generic)—can reduce the risk of a heart attack and premature death in people who have a history of heart disease or at high risk of it. But they provide less benefit to other people, perhaps especially low-risk women. That’s one reason our new Ratings of heart-screening tests recommend routine cholesterol screening for high risk women but say other women should simply discuss the test with a doctor to see if it is right for them. Moreover, statins can cause side effects, including muscle soreness, kidney problems, and possibly an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
The first step in deciding whether a statin is right for you is determining your risk of having a heart attack. To estimate that risk, use our new calculator. The calculator also provides tailored advice based on your risk level and other factors on the nondrug ways you can control your cholesterol levels, and the other ways you can protect your heart by, for example, lowering your blood pressure, losing excess weight, and stopping smoking.
—Steve Mitchell, associate editor, Consumer Reports Health Best Buy Drugs