Statins Prevent Stroke in Heart Patients

We know that high cholesterol raises your risk for coronary artery disease, but what about for stroke? Most studies that have looked for a compelling link between cholesterol and stroke haven’t found one. Strangely, however, some research has found that taking the cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may cut the risk of stroke. A large new study in the January 19 Circulation supports these findings, suggesting that statins may help heart patients avoid stroke, even if they have average cholesterol levels.

The researchers recruited more than 4,000 people who’d survived a heart attack an average of 10 months earlier. All had midrange cholesterol levels, with an average total cholesterol level of 209 milligrams per deciliter and an LDL (bad) cholesterol level of 139 mg/dl. The researchers randomly assigned half of the participants pravastatin (Pravachol) and the other half dummy pills and tracked their health for the next five years.

As expected, the drug lowered even these midrange cholesterol levels (and raised the beneficial HDL cholesterol) in the people taking it. But it also prevented strokes:

The pravastatin group had a third fewer strokes than the placebo group, even after the researchers adjusted for other stroke risk factors. This extra benefit of statins should please heart patients who are already taking a statin to lower their cholesterol and protect their heart, though more research is needed to determine why statins have this effect.

If you’re a heart patient who isn’t taking a statin, ask your doctor about it: Statins benefit almost everyone with heart disease, even if cholesterol levels are in the average range as reported in this study. And now the benefits may include a lowered risk of stroke. However, if you don’t qualify for a statin to protect your heart because you’re too young or don’t have enough risk factors, there’s not yet enough evidence that you should take a statin solely to stave off stroke.

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