Applied Evidence

Translating AHA/ACC cholesterol guidelines into meaningful risk reduction

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AAFP announced in March that it does not endorse the 2018 AHA/ACC guideline, asserting that (1) only a small portion of the recommendations, primarily focused on the addition of nonstatin therapy, were addressed by an independent systematic review and (2) many of the guideline recommendations are based on low-quality or insufficient evidence. AAFP nevertheless bestowed an “affirmation of value” designation on the guideline—meaning that it provides some benefit for family physicians’ practice without fulfilling all criteria for full endorsement.14

Detailed recommendations from the 2018 guideline

Lifestyle modification

When talking about ASCVD risk with patients, it is important to review current lifestyle habits (eg, diet, physical activity, weight or body mass index, and tobacco use). Subsequent to that conversation, a healthy lifestyle should be endorsed and relevant advice provided. In addition, patient-directed materials (eg, ACC’s CardioSmart [www.cardiosmart.org]; AHA’s Life’s Simple 7 [www.heart.org/en/professional/workplace-health/lifes-simple-7]; and the National Lipid Association’s Patient Tear Sheets [www.lipid.org/practicetools/tools/tearsheets] and Clinicians’ Lifestyle Modification Toolbox [www.lipid.org/CLMT]) and referrals (eg, to cardiac rehabilitation, a dietitian, a smoking-cessation program) should be provided.1

Primary prevention of ASCVD

Risk assessment for primary prevention is now approached as a process, rather than the simple risk calculation used in the 2013 ACC/AHA guidelines.2 Assessment involves risk estimation followed by risk personalization, which, in some cases, is followed by risk reclassification using CAC scoring.1

Patients are classified into 1 of 4 risk groups, based on the PCE1:

  • low (< 5%)
  • borderline (5%-7.5%)
  • intermediate (7.5%-19.9%)
  • high (≥ 20%).

However, the PCE-based risk score is a population-based tool, which might not reflect the actual risk of individual patients. In some populations, PCE underestimates ASCVD risk; in others, it overestimates risk. A central tenet of the new guideline is personalization of risk, taking into account the unique circumstances of each patient. Moreover, the new guideline provides guidance on how to interpret the PCE risk score for several different ethnic and racial groups.1

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