BALTIMORE (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) - Heart disease is the top killer of Americans and experts say there is no doubt high cholesterol plays a big part. Cholesterol-lowering drugs or statins are "game-changers" for many patients, but for millions of Americans and their doctors it may be tough to decide whether to statin, or not.
Erin O'Connell Peiffer walks a lot and watches her weight. This mother of three had no idea she was a ticking time bomb until one moment, 14 years ago.
She says, "It felt like my heart was just jello. It was like it would beat, and then it would slow down, I really thought it was going to stop."
O'Connell Peiffer needed double bypass surgery at age 39. "If I didn't have the surgery, I had a less than one-percent chance of being here in four months," she explains.
EO'Connell Peiffer was diagnosed with high cholesterol; a big risk factor for heart disease. Seth Martin, MD, MHS, Preventive Cardiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, says Erin is far from alone.
"A total cholesterol level of 200 or more is considered high; millions and millions of Americans have that," Dr. Martin says.
For many patients, cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins are life-saving, but Dr. Martin says these drugs are not automatically the answer.
"I think there's absolutely confusion about when to statin and when not to statin," he explains.
Dr. Martin says doctors and patients should weigh what he calls the five P's: precision, preference for the patient; participation, in lifestyle changes; potency, how strong a dose is needed and price.
For O'Connell Peiffer, who has a strong family history, there was little choice.
She says, "Because my liver cranks out way too much cholesterol, even if I took in zero dietary fat and exercised 24 hours a day, I'd still have too much cholesterol."
Dr. Martin says it's important to weigh the benefits of statins against the risks. Those risks have been referred to as the five M's: memory, metabolism, muscle, medication interaction and major organ effects.