Updated AHA/ACC cholesterol guidelines focus on more personalized risk assessment
AHA 2018 – Chicago, IL, USANews - Nov. 11, 2018
2018 AHA/ACC/AACVPR/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/ADA/AGS/APhA/ASPC/NLA/PCNA Guideline on the Management of Blood Cholesterol
More personalized risk assessments and new cholesterol-lowering drug options for people at the highest risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) are among the key recommendations in the 2018 cholesterol guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC).
“The updated guidelines reinforce the importance of healthy living, lifestyle modification and prevention. They build on the major shift we made in our 2013 cholesterol recommendations to focus on identifying and addressing lifetime risks for cardiovascular disease,” said Ivor Benjamin, M.D., FAHA, president of the American Heart Association. “Having high cholesterol at any age increases that risk significantly. That’s why it’s so important that even at a young age, people follow a heart-heathy lifestyle and understand and maintain healthy cholesterol levels.”
“High cholesterol treatment is not one size fits all, and this guideline strongly establishes the importance of personalized care,” said Michael Valentine, M.D., FACC, president of the American College of Cardiology. “Over the past five years, we’ve learned even more about new treatment options and which patients may benefit from them. By providing a treatment roadmap for clinicians, we are giving them the tools to help their patients understand and manage their risk and live longer, healthier lives.”
A special report simultaneously published as a companion to the cholesterol guidelines provides a more detailed perspective about the use of quantitative risk assessment in primary prevention for cardiovascular disease. The risk calculator introduced in the 2013 guidelines remains an essential tool to help health care providers identify a patient’s 10-year risk for CVD.
Because the calculator uses population-based formulas, the guidelines now urge doctors to talk with patients about “risk-enhancing factors” that can provide a more personalized perspective of a person’s risk, in addition to traditional risk factors. Risk-enhancing factors include family history and ethnicity, as well as certain health conditions such as metabolic syndrome, chronic kidney disease, chronic inflammatory conditions, premature menopause or pre-eclampsia and high lipid biomarkers, now also including Lp(a) and apoB. This additional information can make a difference in what kind of treatment plan a person needs.
In primary and secondary prevention, when high cholesterol can’t be controlled by diet or exercise, the first line of treatment remains statins. For people at high risk for another CV event and whose LDL-C levels are not adequately lowered by statin therapy, the guidelines now recommend the select additional use of other cholesterol-lowing drugs. The guidelines recommend a stepped-approach of ezetimibe, available as a generic, in addition to the statin for these patients. If that combination doesn’t work well enough, a PCSK9 inhibitor could be added, specifically for people who are at very high risk.
Once treatment is started, whether only lifestyle modifications are prescribed or if medication therapy is added, adherence and effectiveness should be assessed at 4 to 12 weeks with a fasting lipid test, then retested every 3-12 months based on determined needs.
Another new aspect of the guidelines is the recommendation of coronary artery calcium (CAC) measurements for people in some risk categories, when their risk level isn’t clear and treatment decisions are less certain. A CAC score of zero typically indicates a low risk for CVD and could mean those people can forego or at least delay cholesterol-lowering therapy as long as they are non-smokers or don’t have other high-risk behaviors or characteristics. This measurement of calcified plaque is a non-invasive heart scan that should be done by a qualified provider in a facility offering the most current technology.
Recognizing the cumulative effect of high cholesterol over the full lifespan, identifying and treating it early can help reduce the lifetime risk for CVD. Selective cholesterol testing is appropriate for children as young as two who have a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol. In most children, an initial test can be considered between the ages of nine and 11 and then again between 17 and 21. Because of a lack of sufficient evidence in young adults, there are no specific recommendations for that age group. However, it is essential that they adhere to a healthy lifestyle, be aware of the risk of high cholesterol levels and get treatment as appropriate at all ages to reduce the lifetime risk of heart disease and stroke.
This lifespan approach to reducing CVD risk should start at an early age. Kids may not need medication but getting them started on healthy behaviors when they’re young can make a difference in their lifetime risk. When high cholesterol is identified in children, that could also alert a doctor to test other family members who may not realize they have high cholesterol, because awareness and treatment can save lives.
The guidelines offer more specific recommendations for certain age and ethnic groups, as well as for people with diabetes, all important for the comprehensive and individualized provider-patient discussion.
- Our reporting is based on the information provided at the AHA congress -