In an effort to attack heart disease head-on, cardiologists have revised their guidelines for treatment - calling for more statin use and less of a focus on the bottom LDL number.  The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association unveiled the new approach on Tuesday.

With the new guidelines, it's estimated that the number of Americans on prescription statin medications could double.

The new guidelines distinguish between patients who should get high-dose statin therapy and those who can take a lower dose less likely to cause side effects, such as muscle fatigue. They also instruct physicians to discontinue their efforts to meet strict targets for LDL, the "bad" cholesterol that's most closely linked to disease risk.

Cholesterol is essential for digestion, hormonal balance and cell function, but too much of it can gum up arteries. Crestor, Lipitor, Zocor and other statins reduce cholesterol by blocking the liver's production of the waxy substance.

Americans filled 255 million prescriptions for these and other cholesterol-lowering drugs in 2012, according to IMS Health, a research firm that tracks prescription drug trends. Yearly spending on this class of drugs peaked at $21.3 billion in 2011, declining since then as more of those brand-name medications become available as generics.

One of the leading reasons for the change is the ratio of benefits to side-effects when it comes to statin mediacations.  Although slight side effects can occur in some people, the vast majority of patients on statins experience no side effects - just the benefits of lower cholesterol.

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