Researchers have said that US guidelines for prescribing cholesterol-lowering drugs to people over 55 call for many more to be taking the medications than in Europe.
The findings raised new questions about how popular drugs like Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Zocor (simvastatin) are prescribed and to whom, after new US guidelines issued in November called for more adults without heart disease to start taking the medications in order to prevent future health problems.
Nearly every man and most women in a study of nearly 5,000 healthy people over age 55 in The Netherlands would be prescribed some sort of statin under US guidelines, said the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
About 96 percent of men and 66 percent of women in the Rotterdam study would be urged to take a statin, according to guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association.
Far fewer would under guidelines from the European Society of Cardiology. Just 66 percent of men and 39 percent of women were included in the category where treatment was recommended.
The gap comes down to how the guidelines account for the risk of cardiovascular disease in the coming 10 years, resulting in "substantial differences in proportions of individuals qualifying for treatment at a population level," said the study, led by Maryam Kavousi of Erasmus MC-University Medical Center.
Statins can help prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol in the blood and keeping the heart and arteries free of plaque buildup that can lead to stroke or heart attack.
Currently, some 25 million Americans take statins.
The new American Heart Association guidelines mean 56 million people in the United States may be candidates for the drug therapy, up from 43 million under the previous 2001 guidelines, according to research published earlier this month.