High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Nearly 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. Every year about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack and the costs of coronary heart disease alone costs the U.S. over $100 billion annually. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.
Although cholesterol levels may be reduced by dietary modifications and increased physical activity, these lifestyle changes are often difficult to maintain or not sufficiently effective. In those cases, or for persons with other risk factors for heart disease, the use of cholesterol-lowering medications is often suggested.
Widespread belief in the value of drug therapy to lower cholesterol—and consequently to reduce mortality from heart disease—began with the introduction of statin drugs in 1987 and published studies that proved their effectiveness. There are several classes of cholesterol-lowering drugs, but statins have become the drug class of choice because of their demonstrated efficacy and safety.
From 1988–1994 to 2005–2008, the use of statin drugs by adults 45 years of age and over increased 10-fold, from 2% to 25%. There was a concurrent decline in the percentage of Americans with high serum total cholesterol (greater than or equal to 240 mg/dL) over this time period, which may be attributable to increased use of cholesterol-lowering medications, especially statins.
Both men and women are increasingly taking statin drugs. However, in 2005–2008 one-half of men 65–74 years of age took a statin drug in the past 30 days, compared with just over one-third of women in that age group.