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Task Force: Low-Dose Daily Drug Can Reduce Risk Of First Heart Attack, Stroke

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- There's a new recommendation from the government -- the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises all middle-aged people with even one risk factor for heart disease take a cholesterol-lowering drug called a statin to prevent having a heart attack or stroke in the first place.

"The purpose of this organization is to review all the literature and data that may exist on a particular topic," explains Dr. Travis Wilson, an Allegheny Health Network cardiologist, "and then to make a recommendation that helps us figure out which patients are at risk to develop a disease process."

In this particular case, the task force was looking at people who never had a stroke or heart attack, and found a low-dose daily statin reduced the risk of first heart attack or stroke in people with risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and high cholesterol.

"We don't take it lightly as physicians," emphasizes Dr. Wilson. "It's a big deal to take a medicine everyday. And no one is 100 percent sure these medicines are completely benign."

Studies have linked statins to diabetes, memory problems, and muscle aches, but can't show cause and effect.

So how likely are people to go for it? Here's what a few people said:

"I'd research it, and yeah, I probably would."

"There are better ways to prevent it than putting drugs in your body."

"I rather do good food and exercise."

"Would need to know more about it."

"I take an aspirin now, a baby aspirin, but I would a, yeah, if there was a prescription drug you could take to prevent a first heart attack, sure, why not?"

Dr. Wilson is glad statins are by prescription only.

"I like that it's a prescription, because while we recommend statins for a lot of people, first line therapy is always to make lifestyle modifications."

That means not smoking, eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, and limiting alcohol use.

"Often times, we know what we should do, but to actually do that in life can be challenging," he says.

So should you take a statin? It all depends on your risk and how likely you are to stick to living healthy. You should discuss and consider these things with your doctor.

"These are guidelines," says Dr. Wilson, "and we're kind of obligated to individualize those."

Of course, if you've already had a heart attack or stroke, being on a statin is clearly beneficial in reducing risk for another one. Statins work by blocking a step in the liver's production of cholesterol.

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