(NBC News) - Statins are already one of the most widely-prescribed drugs in America. Now, they're likely to get an even bigger boost with new guidelines on controlling cholesterol.
Millions of Americans take one or a combination of the drugs to get their cholesterol down to a specific goal.
Now, they're is a game changer.
New guidelines from American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology prompt doctors to move away from a focus on numbers, to simply getting high-risk people started on the medications.
"Don't be so worried about how far you have to go or how low you have to go with the cholesterol level. But just get the treatment started that's appropriate for you," said Dr. Lori Mosca of New York Presbyterian Hospital.
The guidelines target several groups for whom statins have the greatest chance of helping.
That's those who've had a heart attack or stroke, most adults with Type II diabetes and patients with a genetic predisposition and extremely high levels of unhealthy cholesterol.
"In addition, there's really a new target group, and those are individuals that fall between the ages of 40 and 75, that have a certain percentage risk of developing heart disease or stroke in the next 10 years," Mosca said.
Those are people who don't fall into the other categories, but who have other risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure or a strong family history.
Targeting this new group is likely to lead to a jump in statin prescriptions.
"There may be millions of patients who previously were not considered candidates for statin therapy who will now actually be started on statins," said Dr. Carl Orringer of UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland.
While statins can be beneficial, they work best when taken with a heart-healthy lifestyle, including quitting smoking, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and exercise.
Studies have shown only about 50-percent of patients prescribed a statin are still taking it three months later.