By Robert Preidt
TUESDAY, June 21, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists believe they've discovered another property of cholesterol-lowering statins. The drugs may significantly reduce the risk of infection in stroke patients, a new study suggests.
Researchers analyzed the medical records of more than 1,600 people hospitalized with ischemic stroke (blocked blood flow to the brain). Those taking statins reduced their risk of infection by 58 percent, the study found.
"If patients had statins before there was evidence of an infection, there was a reduced risk that they would actually develop an infection," said study author Doug Weeks, an adjunct professor at Washington State University College of Medicine.
When patients started taking statins was crucial.
"The administration of statins relative to infection is critically important," Weeks said in a university news release. "We've been able to establish that if statins are given early, before infection can occur, the risk of infection is substantially reduced. However, this relationship needs to be tested in more rigorous placebo-controlled studies to see if this benefit with statins is maintained."
The study was published online this month in the Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases.
Along with lowering cholesterol levels to reduce the risk of heart disease, statins may also have anti-inflammatory properties that help the body respond to infection, other research suggests.
In general, one-third to one-half of stroke patients develop infections, Weeks said. Infections can be caused by tubes or catheters, and a stroke may weaken the immune system and make patients more prone to infection.