April 15, 2009 -- Taking statins, which are drugs that lower cholesterol, may make stroke 18% less likely for high-risk patients.
That news, published in May's edition of The Lancet, comes from a review of 24 studies that included nearly 165,800 adults at high risk of stroke.
The patients, who were 63 years old on average, were followed for at least two years and up to seven years. Roughly half were assigned to take statins.
Pooling the data from all of the studies showed that strokes were 18% less likely among patients taking statins than among those who didn't get statins.
Most strokes are caused by blood clots; those are called ischemic strokes. The other, less common type of stroke, called hemorrhagic stroke, is caused by bleeding.
The new review shows no increase in hemorrhagic stroke risk when the researchers analyzed all of the studies together. But two of the 24 studies suggested a possible increase in hemorrhagic stroke risk in patients taking statins.
Amarenco and Labreuche aren't jumping to conclusions about that possibility; they write that statins "have a good overall safety profile." Still, the reviewers "recommend caution when considering statin therapy in patients with prior cerebral hemorrhage."
In The Lancet, Amarenco discloses his financial ties to the drug company Pfizer, which makes the statin Lipitor. The review focused on statins as a class of drugs, not any particular statin.