Many People Who Would Benefit from Statins Aren't Taking Them

A man takes a pill
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About half of American adults who might benefit from taking cholesterol-lowering medications aren't taking them, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study found that cholesterol-lowering drugs would be recommended for about 78 million U.S. adults because they have either high cholesterol levels or risk factors for heart disease. However, only 55.5 percent of these people said they are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.

And although lifestyle changes such as exercise and weight loss can help lower cholesterol levels, 35.5 percent of adults who would benefit from lowering their cholesterol levels said they aren't taking these drugs or making lifestyle changes to lower their cholesterol levels.

Minority populations, including blacks and Mexican Americans, were less likely than whites to be taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, the researchers said. Among those who would benefit from taking the drugs, 58 percent of whites were taking them, compared with 47 percent of Mexican Americans and 46 percent of blacks. Disparities in patient education and other areas may play a role.

"Nearly 800,000 people die in the U.S. each year from cardiovascular diseases — that's one in every three deaths — and high cholesterol continues to be a major risk factor," study researcher Carla Mercado, a scientist in the CDC's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, said in a statement. "This study reveals opportunities to reduce existing disparities through targeted patient education and cholesterol management programs." [7 Foods Your Heart Will Hate]

High cholesterol levels can lead to a buildup of cholesterol along the walls of the arteries, which can hinder the flow of blood to the heart. Cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins have been shown to reduce people's risk of heart disease and stroke.

The American Heart Association recommends cholesterol-lowering drugs for people who:

  • Have heart disease, or have had a heart attack, stroke or chest pain;
  • Have LDL cholesterol levels of 190 mg/dL or higher;
  • Have diabetes, and LDL cholesterol levels of 70 to 189 mg/dL, and are ages 40 to 75; or
  • Have LDL cholesterol levels of 70 to 189 mg/dL, are ages 40 to 75, and have at least a 7.5 percent predicted risk of developing heart disease in the next 10 years.

The findings from the new report are based on an analysis of blood samples from more than 8,600 Americans, who were also interviewed about their use of cholesterol-lowering medications between 2005 and 2012.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.