Drugs that lower cholesterol to help prevent heart attacks also may thwart the most common type of stroke, researchers said.
Drugs such as Zocor and Pravachol reduced the risk of stroke by an estimated 27 percent, according to a new analysis of 12 studies involving 19,518 patients with high cholesterol.
Researchers say the drugs, known as reductase inhibitors, may avert strokes by cleaning arteries, preventing their deterioration or forestalling heart attacks, which can cause strokes later on.
The study, headed by researchers at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston Salem, N.C., is reported in today’s issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Strokes, a disruption of blood flow to the brain, can cause paralysis and death. They are the primary cause of long-term disability in the United States, and kill 150,000 Americans each year, ranking behind heart disease and cancer in deadliness.
Though it has long been known that arteries clogged with cholesterol cause heart attacks, only recently have researchers appreciated the role those clogged arteries play in causing strokes, said the study’s lead author, Dr. John Robert Crouse III.
The most common form of strokes are caused by blood clots in the brain. A less common form not examined in the study are caused when blood vessels bleed into the brain.
Crouse said doctors should give the drugs only to patients with elevated cholesterol levels because they limit the amount of cholesterol the body produces.
Among people taking the drugs, the researchers found a 27 percent reduction in strokes - a 15 percent drop among participants who had not had heart attacks and a 31 percent drop in strokes among heart attack survivors.
Experts believe reductase inhibitors can reduce LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, by 30 percent to 40 percent, compared with other drugs, which reduce LDL by 10 percent to 12 percent. Lowering LDL is believed to be the most important way to modify cholesterol levels.