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Stroke risk may be cut by cholesterol drugs

Wednesday May 20th, 2015

Healthy older people enjoy a reduced risk of suffering stroke if they are taking cholesterol lowering drugs, researchers report today.

Older people are around the world experiencing rising levels of stroke. But as most trials of heart drugs use participants under the age of 70, the benefit of these drugs for older people remains uncertain, according to the researchers.

Writing in The BMJ, Professor Christophe Tzourio of the University of Bordeaux, France, and colleagues report that statin drugs appear to cut the rate of major cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events in people with a history of cardiovascular disease.

However, "evidence of the benefit of statin treatment for primary prevention is limited, especially in older people," they write. The same is true for the other main class of lipid lowering drugs, fibrates.

So the team examined the potential benefits using figures from an ongoing study of 7,484 healthy men and women living in France, recruited when they were aged 74 years on average and followed for about nine years.

This indicated that those taking either statins or fibrates had a 34% lower rate of stroke, but no protection against coronary heart disease.

"If replicated, the study results suggest that lipid lowering drugs might be considered for the prevention of stroke in older populations," the authors conclude.

The British Heart Foundation said the findings added to evidence of the benefits of statins.

Associate medical director Dr Mike Knapton said: “The research suggests that taking statins significantly cuts the risk of stroke for the over 65s, which is an important finding as this age group is often excluded from clinical trials.

"More research is now needed to tell us conclusively if we should be prescribing statins more widely to people of this age to help lower their risk of a stroke.”

Commenting on the study, Professor Graeme Hankey of the University of Western Australia, says the study "will not change guidelines because of its observational design and inherent potential for systematic error".

"However, the results are sufficiently compelling to justify further research testing the hypothesis that lipid lowering may be effective in the primary prevention of stroke in older people."

Alperovitch, A. et al. Primary prevention with lipid lowering drugs and long term risk of vascular events in older people: population based cohort study. BMJ 20 May 2015; doi: 10.1136/bmj.h2335 [abstract]

Tags: Europe | Heart Health | Pharmaceuticals

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