Drug Class Could Prevent Deadliest Strokes


Statin medication | Image by Shutterstock

While the class of drugs known as statins is known to help reduce the risk of strokes caused by blood clots, a new study suggests such medications are also effective at lowering the risk of stroke due to an intracerebral hemorrhage, the second most common and deadliest kind of stroke.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, strokes are the leading cause of death and disability in the country. Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. experiences a “brain attack,” and someone succumbs to the disease every three and a half minutes.

Each year, over 795,000 people experience a stroke nationwide, with related costs reaching nearly $53 billion between 2017 and 2018.

While lifestyle adjustments, like exercising, eating healthier, or quitting smoking, can help lower the chances of experiencing the adverse event, statins offer another tool for tackling the epidemic.

The drugs work by lowering fatty deposits within the arteries. This helps prevent buildups which can ultimately cut off blood flow to the brain.

Worldwide, hundreds of millions of people are administered statins to, among other health issues, help prevent stroke.

Before the latest publication, the effectiveness of statins in reducing brain hemorrhaging was debated. The latest evidence, published in early December in the journal Neurology, helps to settle the debate.

To produce the findings, the authors of the study analyzed prescription data and the health records of over 88,000 people in Denmark with no history of stroke.

Over the course of the study, 989 individuals, with an average age of 76, experienced their first bleeding stroke in the lobe area of the brain. A further 1,175 people with a slightly lower average age of 75 experienced bleeding in other parts of the brain.

Researchers concluded that people who took statins for any period experienced a 17% lower risk of a stroke in the lobe areas of the brain. The same people also saw a 16% reduction in the risk of a stroke in the non-lobe areas.

When statin use was extended to over five years, threats of a bleeding stroke in the lobe and the non-lobe regions dropped by 33% and 38%, respectively.

Dr. David Gaist, a co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, said the results provide “reassuring news for people taking statins that these medications seem to reduce the risk of bleeding stroke as well as the risk of stroke from blood clots.”

The study is not without limitations. Underlying conditions were not accounted for in the analysis. In some cases, pre-existing health issues or lifestyle choices, like smoking, could impact the likelihood of experiencing a stroke. Additional research will be needed to investigate their impact.

Statins may also be unsuitable for some patients.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health are funding an ongoing trial to determine whether people who have previously taken statins and subsequently suffered a hemorrhagic stroke should continue taking the drug. Some evidence-based research suggests that a history of blood clot-driven strokes, known as ischemic strokes, may correlate with a higher chance of a hemorrhagic stroke while on statins.

Previous studies have suggested a possible rise in the “risk of hemorrhagic stroke for people with “a history of ischemic stroke,” cautioned Dr. Pooja Khatri, a professor and division chief of neurology and rehabilitation medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Regardless, she said, the new findings further support the idea that “overall, patients are better off on statins.”

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