Cholesterol Drugs Can Reduce Stroke Risk, but Aren't for Everyone

Loyola University Health System

For many patients, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can reduce the risk of strokes as well as heart attacks.

But in a review article, Loyola University Health System neurologists caution that statins may not be appropriate for certain categories of patients who are at risk for stroke.

The article, by Dr. Murray Flaster and colleagues, appears in the August issue of the journal Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics.

A landmark 2006 study known as SPARCL, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that in patients who have experienced strokes or transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), statins reduced the risk of subsequent strokes by 16 percent.

But this benefit generally applies only to patients who have experienced ischemic strokes, which are caused by blood clots in brain vessels. About 85 percent of strokes are ischemic.

And even among ischemic stroke patients, there is a small subgroup that should be placed on statin therapy only "with circumspection," the researchers write. These patients are those who have had strokes in small blood vessels, have poorly controlled high blood pressure and consume more than one drink of alcohol per day.

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