Statin use: Uncommon in younger heart attack patients

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Cholesterol-lowering statins may be underused in younger people at risk for heart attack, new research suggests.

The study, in the Jan. 23, 2018, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, included more than 1,600 people ages 50 and younger who had experienced a heart attack. Only one in eight was taking a statin before the heart attack.

On average, taking a statin lowers a person's risk of experiencing a heart attack by about 20%. However, most of the untreated people in the study didn't meet the criteria for taking a statin, based on guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association.

The guidelines recommend statins according to a risk score that considers factors such as cholesterol and blood pressure values. But because age accounts for much of the score, the guidelines may underestimate heart attack risk in people ages 50 and younger. One way to address this problem would be to consider whether people have a family history of early heart attack (before age 55 in men and before age 65 in women) — an important predictor that is overlooked in most risk scores, according to an editorial accompanying the report.