Cholesterol Care: How Lipid Guidelines Help Tailor Treatment

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 - Vials of blood

Physicians need a management strategy to help patients at risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Here is an example of how new lipid recommendations can guide care.

A 55-year-old South Asian Indian physician comes to you for management recommendations for primary prevention of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD). He has no current cardiovascular symptoms.

He has an eight-year history of well-controlled arterial hypertension, for which he has been treated with lisinopril 10 mg daily. He is a nonsmoker, has no history of diabetes and has never taken treatment for a lipid disorder. His father had an MI at age 52.

He reports that although his dietary adherence “could be better,” he generally follows a low-fat diet, and walks on a treadmill for 30 minutes three times per week. On examination, he has a waist circumference of 35 inches, body mass index 26 kg/m2, blood pressure 126/62 mm Hg and the remainder of his exam is normal.

His lipid profile shows a total cholesterol 200, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) 45, triglycerides 200, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) 122 and non-HDL-C 155 mg/dL. His comprehensive metabolic panel, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and urinalysis are normal.

He requests evidence-based treatment for ASCVD prevention. You tell him that there are two new evidence-based cholesterol guidelines: the 2013 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) Guideline on the Treatment of Blood Cholesterol and the 2014 National Lipid Association (NLA) Recommendations for the Patient-Centered Management of Dyslipidemia, which share similarities in cholesterol management, but also have some important differences.

Both the ACC/AHA and NLA approaches recommend moderate or high-intensity statin therapy  in patients with established ASCVD, those with genetic dyslipidemias (untreated LDL-C of 190 mg/dL or more), and those with diabetes mellitus. But then a divergent approach to preventive care begins.

Some of the most important differences are in the following areas:

1. Evidence base for recommendations: The ACC/AHA approach uses exclusively randomized controlled trials (RCT) or meta-analyses of statin trials. The NLA approach advocates the use of RCT or meta-analyses of these same statin trials, but also includes information contributed from non-statin trials, observational epidemiologic data, genetic, metabolic and mechanistic studies. This approach emphasizes the “totality” of all evidence instead of “limited” evidence from statin RCT. 

2. Lipid goals: The ACC and AHA do not recommend the employment of lipid goals in patient care, but instead focus on the dose of statin prescribed as a performance measure for clinicians. They advise against the use of non-statin lipid therapy.

The NLA perspective is that excessive circulating cholesterol-carrying lipoproteins (as measured by non-HDL cholesterol [total minus HDL cholesterol] and LDL cholesterol) is a root cause of ASCVD and that specific goals for these lipoproteins should be targeted. While lifestyle intervention plus evidence-based statin therapy is the first choice in preventive drug therapy, non-statin options play an important additive role when lipid goals are not achieved or when patients are statin intolerant.

The employment of lipid goals is one method of enhancing provider-patient partnership to achieve long-term adherence to preventive recommendations. Emphasis on reduction of blood lipids and achievement of lipid-related goals, rather than on specific doses of drug therapy, helps to draw the attention of the patient to the basic cause of ASCVD and helps them to focus on improving their lipids through lifestyle and drug therapy.

3. Risk assessment: The ACC and AHA recommend that untreated primary prevention Caucasian and African-American patients between the ages of 40 and 79 who do not fall into one of four statin benefit groups should have their 10-year ASCVD risk assessed using the Pooled Cohort Risk calculator available through the ACC website. Those whose 10-year risk is 7.5 percent or more are advised to engage in a discussion with their provider about the value of starting statin therapy.

The NLA is concerned about the validation of this 10-year risk calculator, its potential to overestimate risk and its potential to promote the use of statin therapy in certain populations in whom benefit is uncertain. For example, the application of the Pooled Cohort Risk Calculator to a European