By the way, doctor: Are the guidelines for taking statins different for women?
Q. I've heard that men are supposed to take a statin if they're at high risk of getting heart disease, but that women are only supposed to after they actually get it. Is that true?
A. No, it's not. The studies showing benefits from lowering cholesterol levels apply to both men and women. So both sexes should follow the existing guidelines, which state that if your "bad" LDL cholesterol is greater than 160 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), and you have no other risk factors for heart disease, you should first try to improve your cholesterol levels with diet and exercise. If these steps don't bring down your LDL level, you should go on a cholesterol-lowering medication, usually (but not always) a statin.
Patients with risk factors for heart disease, but no evidence of the disease yet, should aim to get their LDL below 130 mg/dL, which usually involves taking a statin. And those with heart disease should shoot for 100 mg/dL, and maybe even 70 mg/dL if they also have diabetes or serious risk factors.