Millions of Americans may be getting the wrong treatment to prevent a heart attack or stroke, one study suggests.
Prescriptions for blood-thinning aspirin, cholesterol-lowering statins, and blood pressure medications might be incorrect because a tool that estimates risk appears to be off by as much as 20 percent. That means almost 12 million Americans could have the wrong medication, according to the team led by Dr. Sanjay Basu, an assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University.
Risk estimate tools predict the likelihood of a future heart attack or stroke within the next 10 years. Doctors use these tools to help them decide what treatment a patient needs, if any at all.
But these tools are only helpful if they’re accurate. There’s concern that some of the statistical methods used to develop a commonly used risk estimate tool may be prone to miscalculating risk.
The study authors cited the example of a 46-year-old white male smoker with normal blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels. The risk estimate tool said this man would have about an 11 percent risk of a heart attack or stroke resulting from plaque buildup in the arteries in the next 10 years.
When the researchers used the same information but changed his race to black, the tool dropped the risk to less than 7 percent. That would mean that being black lowered the man’s risk of a heart attack or stroke by 40 percent.
Yet past research suggests that being black raises — not reduces — the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Basu said using more recent data is one way to boost accuracy. When he and his colleagues updated the statistical modeling, they produced what they feel is a more accurate estimation. However, Basu said this new risk estimation calculator needs to be validated by other researchers to ensure its accuracy.
To that end, the researchers have made their statistical models and calculations available on the Internet.
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