BOSTON (CBS) — Millions more Americans could benefit from treatment with popular cholesterol-lowering medications, according to two new studies.

Nearly half of adults ages 40-to-75 might be eligible to take them.

Heart disease is still the number one killer of American men and women and cholesterol-lowering statins, like atorvastatin (Lipitor) and simvastatin (Zocor), have been shown to reduce heart disease in people at risk.

Before, doctors would treat patients primarily based on their cholesterol levels, but a couple of years ago, leading cardiologists urged doctors to treat patients based on their overall risk including gender, age, race, blood pressure, and smoking history, not just cholesterol levels.

With these guidelines, the number of Americans who would be advised to take statins jumped from 43 million to 56 million, which alarmed some experts, but now two new studies, funded by the National Institutes of Health, support these new guidelines saying that they are better at identifying who should take statins and that treating these people will be more cost effective overall.

Some critics say these studies have some limitations and the new guidelines, which were issued in 2013, have been slow to catch on, but many cardiologists are hoping that this new data will convince doctors and patients that statins could benefit many more Americans than are currently taking them.

Are there risks associated with taking statins? Most tolerate them just fine, but in some patients, they can cause muscle pain or weakness, which usually resolves once the medication is stopped.

Dr. Mallika Marshall

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