Use of the Coronary Artery Calcium Score in Discussion of Initiation of Statin Therapy in Primary Prevention

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Clinical guidelines for instituting pharmacotherapy for the primary prevention of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), specifically lipid management and aspirin, have long been based on absolute risk. However, lipid management in the current era remains challenging to both patients and clinicians in the setting of somewhat discordant recommendations from various organizations. All guidelines endorse the use of statins for primary prevention for those at sufficient absolute risk, and treatment recommendations are generally “risk-based” rather than exclusively targeting specific low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Nonetheless, guidelines differ in relation to the risk threshold for initiation and the intensity of statin treatment. The key concept of the clinician-patient risk discussion introduced in the 2013 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association cholesterol guidelines is a process that addresses the potential for ASCVD risk reduction with statin treatment, potential for adverse treatment effects, patient preferences, encouragement of heart-healthy lifestyle, and management of other risk factors. However, operationalizing the clinician-patient risk discussion requires effective communication of the most accurate and personalized risk information. In this article, we review our treatment approach for the appropriate use of coronary artery calcium testing in the intermediate-risk patient to guide shared decision making. The decision to initiate or intensify statin therapy may be uncertain across a broad range of estimated 10-year ASCVD risk of 5% to 20%, and coronary artery calcium testing can reclassify risk upward or downward in approximately 50% of this group to inform the risk discussion. We conclude with 2 case-based examples of uncertain risk and uncertain statin therapeutic benefit to illustrate execution of the clinician-patient risk discussion.

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