Cholesterol Soared, Statin Use Surged

Cholesterol lowering medications like statins were on the rise in the US

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Americans are fighting back against high cholesterol, and one type of medication is leading the charge.

A recent data brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the use of cholesterol-lowering medications — statins in particular — was on the rise.

Such medications are recommended by national cholesterol treatment guidelines. Reducing cholesterol can prevent plaque buildup in the blood vessels and, as a result, heart disease.

These medications fit into two classes: statins and non-statins.

"Statins are the top choice for cholesterol lowering medication because not only do they lower cholesterol numbers, they also reduce heart attack and stroke risk by 30 percent or more," said Sarah Samaan, MD, FACC, a board-certified cardiologist with the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, TX, in an interview with dailyRx News.

"Other lipid lowering drugs are less effective and may have more side effects."

Qiuping Gu, MD, PhD, of the CDC's National Center for Health and Statistics, led this report.

A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) was given several times over the last decade to adults aged 40 and over about their health and medication use. During 2011 to 2012, more than 1 out of 4 (28 percent) adults older than 40 reported using a cholesterol-lowering medication within the past 30 days. This was an increase from 1 out of 5 adults over 40 in 2003 to 2004.

No significant differences were reported among sex or race. However, increased age was directly tied to the use of cholesterol-targeting medication. A 26 percent jump in medication use occurred between the 40 to 59 and 60 to 74 age groups, and nearly half of adults older than 60 took a cholesterol-lowering medication.

Statin use in particular was shown to be on the rise as well, with a 6 percent increase. The recent numbers showed that nearly 93 percent of patients taking cholesterol-reducing medications were taking statins.

The most popular medication was simvastatin (brand name Zocor), which is used by nearly half (42 percent) of anti-cholesterol medication takers. The next most frequently used was atorvastatin (Lipitor), which was taken by 1 out of 5 anti-cholesterol medication users.

Still, many patients who might benefit from cholesterol medications were not taking them. Only 71 percent of adults diagnosed with heart disease and 54 percent of adults with high cholesterol were taking medications to lower their cholesterol.

Dr. Samaan said she believes in the use of statins.

"Since cardiovascular disease is our country's number one cause of death, killing more people than all cancers combined, it makes sense to do everything we can to keep our risk as low as possible," Dr. Samaan said.

"Doctors like the drugs because, while we cannot control individuals' lifestyle choices such as an unhealthy diet, smoking, and lack of exercise, we know that when we prescribe a statin we can have an immediate and lasting impact on our patients' health."

This data brief was published by the CDC National Center for Health Statistics in December. The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 31, 2014
Last Updated:
January 5, 2015