New heart attack and stroke risk calculator could boost number on cholesterol meds

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - For many, Thanksgiving is that day where anything goes at the table.

"That's a free day, as far as I'm concerned!" said Laura Walters, who said that she's on cholesterol medication and that her cholesterol is under control.  She said that a new approach that warns more people what might happen to them ten years down the line can be effective.

"I think that's probably a good idea," she said.

"They are to be commended in the fact that they have made and actually more comprehensive approach at this as opposed to scales of numbers," said Dr. William Howe, a cardiologist with Carondelet Heart and Vascular Institute Physicians at St. Mary's Hospital.

The new system from American Heart Association and American College of Cardiologists could double the number of people on statins, which control cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Dr. Howe welcomed the new system which gets patients away from targeting numbers, which was how cholesterol had been explained to patients.  The new method tells patients their risk based on their age, weight, and lifestyle among other factors.  But there have been concerns that the system is flawed and will alert too many to a risk that might not be there.

"We're trying to go towards more primary prevention versus secondary prevention where we treat people after they've had an event, and the cost and quality of life impact that has is much greater than, say, prescribing a low dose statin to limit risk," Dr. Howe said.

Getting a conversation started about better living and possibly starting the use of statins as prevention is something that Dr. Howe considered beneficial.

"When we as professionals have seen patients with heart attack and stroke and very deleterious outcomes, we wish we would have prevented that sooner," he said.

"We need to be aware of it and take care of it when we have it," Walters said.

Dr. Howe said that statins have come down in price with the use of generics, that side effects have been reduced, and that they can be avoided by lowering the prescription as needed.

The Institute will open its new facilities at St. Mary's next month.

Copyright 2013 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.