Minnesota doctors balk at new cholesterol calculator

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Despite the release of a new risk calculator last week by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, some Minnesota doctors say they are sticking with the current recommendations when it comes to prescribing cholesterol-lowering drugs, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

The new AHA/ACC calculator is meant to eliminate a person's risk of having a heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years, but several prominent cardiologists across the country say the new guidelines are overreaching.

Minneapolis Heart Institute cardiologist Dr. Rob Schwartz tells MPR that he thinks "someone goofed." Assessing his own risk, Schwartz says he comes close to qualifying for cholesterol-lowering drugs, or statins, despite having no risk factors apart from age and gender.

Schwartz tells MPR that he wouldn't recommend the use of the calculator because it's too controversial. He says it puts a doctor's credibility at risk and lends itself to conspiracies that it has something to do with drug companies.

The director of the Cardiovascular Health Clinic at Mayo Clinic tells MPR that he also found inaccuracies in the new risk calculator when assessing test cases, and until he gets some clarification, the Mayo will continue to use the old risk calculator.

Dr. Randy Thomas says he knows some of the committee members who helped developed the calculator and calls them "excellent scientists," but notes that there seems "to be some kind of a misstep and I'm not sure where that happened."

The New York Times reports that even the past president of American College of Cardiology disputes the implementation of the new risk calculator, calling the release of the tool "stunning."

Dr. Steven Nissen, who is currently chief of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told the Times, "We need a pause to further evaluate this approach before it is implemented on a widespread basis."

According to the Times, the problems were initially pointed out by two Harvard Medical School professors who were scheduled to release their findings in the major medical journal The Lancet on Tuesday.

The professors, Dr. Paul M. Ridker and Dr. Nancy Cook, reportedly pointed out the problems with the risk calculator earlier this year to the developers of the guidelines. However, they say nothing was changed when the tool was introduced Nov. 12.

The Times says the AHA called an emergency session at the organization's annual meeting in Dallas Saturday night to address the concerns and have private meetings with Ridker. The doctor's calculations, coordinated with Cook, claim the new risk calculator could be over-predicting cardiovascular risk by 75 to 150 percent, depending on the population.

Still, while the AMA and ACC say the risk calculator isn't perfect, they claim it's a big step forward and recommend doctors follow the guidelines.

In an explanation of the new risk calculator, Time magazine said one-third of Americans have high cholesterol levels, and those high levels double the risk of a person having a heart attack.

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