Cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may reduce disability after a stroke.

Researchers reporting at the American Academy of Neurology 57th Annual Meeting say stroke victims who were taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs before their stroke are more likely to recover and go home than those not on these medications.

For those victims not taking a statin drug before a stroke, starting them soon afterward also cuts the risk of dying or being discharged to a nursing home, the study shows.

“Unless there are medical reasons not to take the drugs, all patients who suffer a stroke should be put on statins,” says researcher Majaz Moonis, MD, director of the Stroke Prevention Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

Statins Help Before and After Stroke

The researchers also suggest that people who are at high risk of stroke should be considered for statin therapy even before they suffer a stroke.

Moonis says the study shows that people started on statin drugs within a week of a stroke were one-and-a-half to more than twice as likely to recover and go home within 45 days as those who were not given the drugs.

“People who were taking statin drugs before a stroke were 1.6 times more likely to be discharged home as opposed to being discharged to a nursing home or dying,” he tells WebMD.

The researchers also show that people who were given a statin after a stroke were more than twice as likely to be discharged home as those victims never given the drugs.

The researchers studied 1,618 people who had an ischemic stroke, a type of stroke caused by a blood clot. Other strokes are caused by ruptured blood vessels that spill blood into the brain.

Statin Drugs Facilitate Brain Cell Repair

While statin drugs are best known for their ability to lower LDL "bad" cholesterol, Moonis says he suspects other disease-fighting properties are at play in these patients.

“We were looking at outcomes within 45 days of the stroke,” he explains. “That would be too soon to expect a cholesterol-lowering effect in the patients who were started in the drugs after a stroke.”

So What Was Going On?

Moonis says statin drugs don’t just lower cholesterol: They also prevent cells from clumping together, help repair the lining of blood vessels, and reduce levels of C-reactive protein, which has been linked to stroke and heart disease.

“Given these properties of statins, it seems reasonable to assume that statins facilitate brain cell repair, thereby improving the outcome after stroke,” Moonis says.

Mark Alberts, MD, director of the Stroke Program at Northwestern University in Chicago, says there is no question that statin drugs have multiple modes of action.

“It’s hard to know which has the beneficial effects in terms of stroke outcomes,” he tells WebMD. “But the bottom line is that statins are good for the patient.”

Targeting Important Risk Factors for Stroke

Alberts says most doctors already prescribe statins to stroke victims and that more and more are starting to prescribe them to at-risk patients as well. Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, tobacco use, family history, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity and inactivity.

By Charlene Laino, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: American Academy of Neurology 57th Annual Meeting, April 9-16, 2005, Miami Beach, Fla. Majaz Moonis, MD, director, Stroke Prevention Clinic, University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center, Worcester. Mark Alberts, MD, director, Stroke Program at Northwestern University, Chicago.