For many people keeping cholesterol in check includes prescription medicine.  Now there are some new guidelines on who should be taking cholesterol medicine.

Statins are one of the most widely-prescribed drugs in America for controlling cholesterol.  Now the American Heart Association and cardiologists say even more patients should be taking advantage of that treatment.

Millions of Americans take one or a combination of these drugs called "statins" to get their cholesterol down to a specific goal.  Now there is a game changer.   New guidelines from the 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. 

Dr. Lori Mosca, with New York Presbyterian Hospital says the point is not to 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 the patient. 

The guidelines target several groups for whom statins have the greatest chance of helping.  The groups include those who've had a heart attack or stroke, most adults with type two 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," according to Dr. Mosca.  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.   

While statins can be beneficial,  they work best when taken with a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes quitting smoking, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and exercising.