SOUTH FLORIDA -

Cardiologists call it the biggest shift in more than 20 years. New guidelines to treat cholesterol emphasize risk to the heart over "bad" cholesterol levels.

The big change is no target, no goals," said Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic. "You either treat or you don't treat."

Guidelines released by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, increase access to cholesterol-lowering drugs like Lipitor to have a "lower risk of heart disease."

The old guidelines limited statins to patients with a 20 percent chance of developing heart disease in the next 10 years.

That number has now been reduced to 7.5 percent.

Simply put, doctors say the number of patients with access to statins could double.

"Study after study has shown that these cholesterol-lowering medications reduce the risk of death, heart attack and stroke," Nissen said.

But even with more access, doctors warn that statin drugs alone won't eliminate the risks. They stress the importance of a healthy diet, low on saturated fats and sodium, and at least 40 minutes of exercise 3 to 4 times per week.

"The first defense is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and keep the body weight to the normal level," Nissen said.