Statin drugs, which lower cholesterol, may have a benefit for survivors of strokes caused by bleeding in the brain.

Two small studies tested statins on people who had a stroke caused by bleeding in the brain — called a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

Thirty-five percent of patients with subarachnoid hemorrhages die in the first 24 hours, says researcher John Lynch, MD, in a news release.

Patients taking statins fared better than those given a fake drug (placebo).They were less likely to have prolonged constriction of brain blood vessels after their brain hemorrhage.

The prolonged constriction, called cerebral vasospasm, is common with bleeding in the brain and may lead to another stroke.

Longer, larger studies should be done, write the researchers in Stroke.

A Leading Killer

Strokes are the No. 3 cause of death and a leading cause of severe, long-term disability in the U.S. Every year, nearly 700,000 Americans have a stroke. That's about one stroke every 45 seconds, states the web site of the American Stroke Association (ASA).

Strokes can happen when a blood vessel is clogged (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel breaks, bleeding into the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).

Most strokes are ischemic strokes. By curbing cholesterol that can clog blood vessels, statin drugs help avoid ischemic strokes.

Doctors already knew that. The new studies focused on patients who had had the rarer hemorrhagic strokes.

Read WebMD's "What Is a Stroke? Get the Facts"

Stroke Warning Signs

The ASA lists these stroke warning signs:

— Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.

— Sudden confusion, trouble with speaking, or trouble with understanding

— Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

— Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, or trouble with walking

— Sudden, severe headache with no known cause is more common after a hemorrhagic stroke

Get medical help immediately at any sign of stroke. Prompt treatment can make a big difference, and some medications must be given within a short time frame.

Read WebMD's "Cholesterol Drugs Help Stroke Recovery"

British Stroke Study

The larger study — with 80 patients — was done in the U.K. Patients got Lipostat (a British version of the statin drug Pravachol) or a placebo. The statin was made by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., a WebMD sponsor.

The pills were taken for up to 14 days, starting within 72 hours of brain bleeding. Patients taking Lipostat had 32 percent fewer blood vessel constrictions in the brain than those taking the placebo.

Blood vessel constriction was also shortened by nearly one day with the statin group, researchers write. They included Ming-Yuan Tseng, MD, MPhil, MSc, of the neurosurgery department at Addenbrooke's Hospital at the University of Cambridge.

Read WebMD's "Daily Burger, Fries: A Recipe for Stroke"

U.S.Study

The second study — done in the U.S. — was smaller, with 39 patients. It compared another statin, Zocor, with a placebo. Researchers including John Lynch, MD, of Duke University's medical school conducted the study.

Zocor was given to 19 patients; the others got a placebo. Patients took the pills for 14 days, starting within 48 hours of their brain hemorrhage.

The Zocor group had fewer blood vessel constrictions than the placebo group. The problem was seen in five of the 19 patients taking Zocor and 12 out of the 20 taking the placebo.

Zocor is made by Merck & Co., a WebMD sponsor.

The results may pave the way for bigger studies on the topic, write the researchers.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Tseng, M. Stroke, rapid access. Lynch, J. Stroke, rapid access. American Stroke Association and American Heart Association: "Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics - 2005 Update." American Stroke Association: "Impact of Stroke." News release, American Heart Association.