A new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers has found that it would be cost-effective to treat 48-67% of all adults aged 40-75 in the U.S. with cholesterol-lowering statins. By expanding the current recommended treatment guidelines and boosting the percentage of adults taking statins, an additional 161,560 cardiovascular-related events could be averted, according to the researchers.

“The new cholesterol treatment guidelines have been controversial, so our goal for this study was to use the best available evidence to quantify the tradeoffs in health benefits, risks, and costs of expanding statin treatment. We found that the new guidelines represent good value for money spent on health care, and that more lenient treatment thresholds might be justifiable on cost-effectiveness grounds even accounting for side-effects such as diabetes and myalgia,” said Ankur Pandya, assistant professor of health decision science at Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study.

The percentage of Americans taking statins has jumped in recent years—as of 2012, 26% of all adults over age 40 were taking them, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—and so has controversy surrounding their use. In November 2013, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) recommended that statins be prescribed for people with a 7.5% or greater risk of heart attack or stroke over a 10-year period, including many with no existing cardiovascular issues. Previous guidelines had advised statin use only if the risk was 10-20% or higher.

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