FOX 47 - Health News

MADISON (WMSN) -- Cholesterol drugs, also known as statins, are credited with saving thousands of lives every year.

Now, a major drug maker wants to sell them to healthy people, as a way to prevent heart disease.

Crestor, the second-best selling cholesterol medication, will begin a new marketing strategy, and they're doing it with the government's blessing.

About 40 million people in this country take cholesterol medications, but new guidelines, approved by the FDA, would open the pharmacy to 6.5 million more people -- people with no cholesterol problems and no sign of heart problems.

Some doctors are putting up some red flags.

Studies show statins can increase a patient's risk for diabetes, liver disease, and muscle aches.

Dr. David Shearer is a family physician with Dean Health. He says taking a pill is not always the solution, and people need to focus on preventative steps.

"Stopping smoking, losing weight, eating a balanced diet, these lifestyle modifications are risk-free," Dr. Shearer said.

Still, statin use is skyrocketing. Doctors wrote more than 200 million prescriptions for cholesterol drugs last year. Usage doubled over the last decade, but it remains to be seen whether these new marketing strategies will mean more people will take the drugs.

"My prediction is it will not be widely accepted by the medical community," said Dr. Matthew Wolff, UW Hospital cardiologist.

Dr. Wolff says prescribing statins to people with little to no risk factors won't have a significant health impact, and will likely end up costing a lot of money.

"I think that's where the controversy arises -- it applies to the risk, but maybe more importantly to the expense of the drug. When you talk about treating potentially millions of people, you're only going to see a modest reduction in heart attacks, strokes, and deaths in the United States," Dr. Wolff said.

Both Shearer and Wolff say best advice for people is to have a one-on-one conversation with their doctor.

The new Crestor label says it may be prescribed for men over 50, and women over 60, who have one risk factor like smoking or hypertension.

Doctors debate cholesterol meds for healthy people

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