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Statin cuts risk of another stroke

by editor2
August 10th, 2006

Offering a new way to treat stroke patients, researchers reported that high doses of a cholesterol-lowering statin drug could reduce the risk of another attack and stroke-related death.

The statin Lipitor lowered the risk of another stroke by 16 percent and reduced fatal strokes by 40 percent, according to the study published in today’s New England Journal of Medicine.

Strokes kill 160,000 Americans a year, making it the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer. Two of five stroke patients have a second attack within five years.

The research was funded by Pfizer, which makes Lipitor. Although the study looked only at Lipitor, some experts said it was possible that large doses of other statin drugs could have the same effect.

“This is a clear demonstration of the benefits of taking a statin under these circumstances,” said Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic, a cardiac specialist and statin researcher who was not involved in the study.

The study showed the greatest benefits to patients who suffered strokes caused by clots or blockages that reduce blood flow to the brain, known as ischemic strokes, which account for 88 percent of all strokes.

Patients recovering from a less-common form of stroke caused by bleeding in or near the brain, known as hemorrhagic strokes, did worse on Lipitor. Doctors said the problem could be avoided by restricting the use of statins to ischemic stroke patients.

The study was the latest to find new uses for cholesterol-lowering drugs. Statins have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack, and a recent study found the drugs might prevent cataracts.

The new study involved 4,731 patients. Half were assigned to receive Lipitor and the rest were given a placebo.

Most patients were also given the standard stroke treatment of blood pressure medicine and aspirin to prevent blood clots. All patients entered the trial within six months of having a stroke and were followed for five years.

During the study, 265 of the patients on Lipitor, or 11.2 percent, had a stroke compared to 311, or 13.1 percent, of those on a placebo.

Although the differences seemed modest, Dr. Robert Adams, a spokesman for the American Stroke Association, said they represented a meaningful improvement because they came in addition to the benefits from the standard treatments all the patients received.

There were no statistical difference in the overall death rate between the two groups, but when researchers looked only at deaths caused by stroke, the Lipitor group benefited. There were 24 fatal strokes, or 1 percent, in the Lipitor group compared with 41, or 1.7 percent, of patients taking a placebo.

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