TUESDAY, Aug. 2, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Statins, a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs that includes Lipitor and Crestor, appear to help young people after they've had a certain kind of stroke with unknown cause, a new study has found.
Strokes are rare in young people, and it's even more uncommon for them to occur without a known cause. In the study, published in the Aug. 2 issue of the journal Neurology, Finnish researchers focused on 215 people who suffered strokes between the ages of 15 and 49 during the years 1994 through 2007.
It wasn't clear why their strokes happened. All were "ischemic," meaning they occurred due to blockage of blood vessels.
The study authors sought to figure out whether being on a statin -- a medication that targets "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol -- would help stroke patients avoid heart-related problems, such as heart attack, in the future. They followed the patients for an average of nine years.
After adjusting their statistics so they wouldn't be thrown off by factors such as the study participants' ages or sex, the researchers found that those who took any statins during the follow-up period were 77 percent less likely to experience a heart-related problem than those who didn't.
Twenty-nine heart-related "events" occurred among the 143 patients who never took a statin drug. None occurred among the 36 who always took a statin, and just four events occurred among the 36 patients who took a statin off and on, according to a journal news release.
The authors, Dr. Jukka Putaala of the neurology department at Helsinki University Central Hospital in Finland and colleagues, noted that the study has limitations due to the small number of patients who took the cholesterol drugs and the small number of heart-related problems among them. "Nevertheless, differences between the groups were obvious even within the first years of observation," they wrote.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, director of the Duke Stroke Center at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., said that the findings don't directly prove that the cholesterol-fighting medications helped the patients.
Previous research has shown that the medications can reduce the risk of a second stroke, but only in patients with a "bad" cholesterol (LDL-C) level of at least 100 mg/dL, he noted.
"I think it is reasonable, based on the trial data, to consider statins for prevention of recurrent stroke in patients with stroke of unknown cause who have an LDL-C at or above 100 mg/dL, regardless of age," Goldstein said.
For more on stroke, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.