Aug. 1, 2011 -- Cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may help reduce the risk of recurrent strokes in young people even if they don’t have high cholesterol levels, according to new research in the journal Neurology.
Statins are widely prescribed to reduce the risk of recurrent stroke and heart disease in people who have recently had an ischemic stroke, a type of stroke that occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked. The stroke-reduction benefits of statins among younger people without high cholesterol or other traditional stroke risk factors were not known before this study was conducted.
Of 215 people aged 15 to 49 who had an ischemic stroke of undetermined cause, those who took a statin at any point after their stroke were 77% less likely to have another stroke or develop blocked arteries elsewhere in the body when compared to their counterparts who were never treated with a statin.
“Because the cause of stroke in young people can be hard to identify, cholesterol-lowering drugs are often not used to prevent further strokes or vascular problems,” says study author Jukka Putaala, MD, PhD, a neurologist at Helsinki University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, in a news release. “This study suggests that the drugs should be considered even when the cause of the stroke is unknown and the cholesterol levels are not high.”
Twenty percent of the 143 people who never took a statin had a second stroke or vascular problem, compared with none of the 36 people who continuously took a statin after their stroke and four of 36 people who took a statin at some point after their stroke.
People who had taken a statin at some point were more likely to be older and have higher cholesterol levels and/or high blood pressure, compared to people who had never taken statin, the new study shows.
This study “shows us that even those people who are younger and may not have the entire classic stroke risk factors are still at high risk for recurrence and could benefit from a statin,” says Shyam Prabhakaran, MD, a neurologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “We don’t usually think of cholesterol-lowering drugs in this population because they usually have mild, if any, elevations in cholesterol."
The statins may reduce stroke risk by cooling inflammation, he says. “This expands the indications for statins to younger stroke patients who don’t have atherosclerosis,” or hardening of the arteries, he says.
Statins have beneficial effects on stroke risk above and beyond their cholesterol-lowering effect, agrees Roger Bonomo, MD, director of stroke care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.