If you're in your 50s and your cholesterol levels are even slightly elevated, chances are your doctor has suggested that you consider taking a statin, a drug that blocks some of the chemicals your body needs to make cholesterol. Taking statins has become pretty standard in our age group, and there's a lot of evidence that these drugs can make a substantial dent in the cholesterol levels of people at high risk for heart diseases or stroke. But does everyone over 50 need to take them?
In a study to be presented today at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Chicago, doctor from Johns Hopkins say that the answer is no. The researchers studied 950 healthy men and women and found that nearly 95 percent of all heart attacks or strokes in the group were among those who had a measurable build-up of calcium in their blood vessels. In fact, 75 percent of all heart-related emergencies were among those with the highest calcium scores.
On the other hand, the 47 percent of participants who had no measurable level of calcium buildup in their blood vessels had only about 5 percent of heart-related problems. That means that statins might have helped the first group, but wouldn't have done much for the second.
The Johns Hopkins team says the results show the importance of measuring coronary artery calcium deposits to predict who may be at highest risk. Statins can help those people, but, like all powerful drugs, they also can cause side effects, such as muscle pain.
For more on the risks and benefits of statins, click here.