Intensive low-density lipoprotein cholesterol lowering in cardiovascular disease prevention: opportunities and challenges

Heart. 2021 Sep;107(17):1369-1375. doi: 10.1136/heartjnl-2020-318760. Epub 2021 Apr 1.


Elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) are associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Guidelines for the management of dyslipidaemia from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and the European Atherosclerosis Society (EAS) were updated in late 2019 in light of recent intervention trials involving the use of innovative lipid-lowering agents in combination with statins. The new guidelines advocate achieving very low LDL-C levels in individuals at highest risk, within the paradigm of 'lower is better'. With the advent of combination therapy using ezetimibe and/or proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 inhibitors in addition to statins, the routine attainment of extremely low LDL-C levels in the clinic has become a reality. Moreover, clinical trials in this setting have shown that, over the 5-7 years of treatment experience to date, profound LDL-C lowering leads to further reduction in cardiovascular events compared with more moderate lipid lowering, with no associated safety concerns. These reassuring findings are bolstered by genetic studies showing lifelong very low LDL-C levels (<1.4 mmol/L; <55 mg/dL) are associated with lower cardiovascular risk than in the general population, with no known detrimental health effects. Nevertheless, long-term safety studies are required to consolidate the present evidence base. This review summarises key data supporting the ESC/EAS recommendation to reduce markedly LDL-C levels, with aggressive goals for LDL-C in patients at highest risk, and provides expert opinion on its significance for clinical practice.

Keywords: atherosclerosis; epidemiology; hyperlipidaemias.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / blood
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood*
  • Dyslipidemias* / drug therapy
  • Dyslipidemias* / metabolism
  • Heart Disease Risk Factors
  • Humans
  • Lipid Regulating Agents / pharmacology*
  • Risk Adjustment


  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Lipid Regulating Agents