This paper reviews recent studies into the outcomes of clinical trials in which statin therapy has been used in the prevention and treatment of strokes.
Epidemiologic studies found no or little association between blood cholesterol levels and stroke. Randomized trials have confirmed that LDL lowering decreased the risk of stroke, in diabetic or hypertensive patients with 'normal' LDL cholesterol at baseline, and in patients with coronary artery disease, with respectively 48, 27 and 25% reduction in stroke incidence. A meta-analysis of trials showed that the greater the LDL cholesterol reduction, the greater the intima-media thickness and stroke risk reductions. Even if statins also have 'pleiotropic' effects, their main action seems to be through LDL reduction. The Heart Protection Study only included strokes that occurred 4.6 years before--a time when the stroke event rate is low and the cardiac event rate is high, and so may not have had the power to find a true effect of LDL cholesterol lowering in preventing recurrent stroke. The Stroke Prevention by Aggressive Reduction in Cholesterol Levels (SPARCL) trial may give a definite answer because SPARCL investigators included 4732 patients with brain infarction or transient ischemic attacks and no history of myocardial infarction within 6 months of their stroke event, at a time when the expected stroke rate is very high and the myocardial infarction rate is very low. The results should be announced by mid-2006.
The positive effect of statins on stroke observed in trials of patients with coronary heart disease depended mainly on between-group LDL reduction, but other mechanisms could be involved. Though effective in prevention of major coronary events after a first stroke, statins have not yet been proven effective in prevention of recurrent stroke.