Nearly half of those who are eligible for cholesterol-lowering medications are not taking them, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This number also includes those who were taking cholesterol-lowering medication, but stopped. The report, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, highlights the fact that although the number of Americans with high cholesterol is on the decline, LDL cholesterol remains a major factor in heart disease and strokes.

The study found that 36.7% of US adults (>21 years) were eligible for, or currently taking cholesterol-lowering medication but of this group only 55% were actively taking a cholesterol-lowering medication. The examined data spans over seven years (from 2005–2012) and was taken from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. The medication use data was collected from self-reported medical history interviews or transcribed from medication bottles recorded in prescription medication interviews. While the study included people taking all forms of cholesterol-lowering medication, nearly 90% of those receiving medication were taking a statin drug.

As outlined by the 2013 ACC/AHA guidelines, persons who should initiate or continue cholesterol-lowering medication included four groups: 

  • People with heart disease, a prior heart attack or some types of stroke, or angina.
  • People with LDL cholesterol levels of 190mg/dL or more.
  • People ages 40 to 75 with diabetes and LDL cholesterol levels of 70-189 mg/dL.
  • People ages 40-75 with LDL cholesterol levels of 70-189mg/dL and an estimated 10–year risk of heart disease of 7.5% or more.

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Apart from taking medications, those with high LDL cholesterol are strongly advised to try living a a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and eating heart healthy foods. The report found that of the 36.7% of US adults eligible for, or currently taking cholesterol-lowering medication, 46.6% said they made lifestyle changes, 37.1% said they made lifestyle modifications and were taking medication, while 35.5% reported doing neither. Unsurprisingly, those who responded saying they had already changed to a heart healthy lifestyle (80%) were the group most likely to be taking cholesterol-lowering medication.