Cholesterol drugs may lower risk for mental impairment after stroke

SAN DIEGO, Feb. 6 High cholesterol may increase the risk of stroke, but cholesterol-lowering drugs might reduce the risk of impaired brain function after a stroke, according to a study presented today at the American Stroke Association's 29th International Stroke Conference.

Patients with a history of high cholesterol had a lower risk of cognitive impairment three to six months after stroke. However, the finding likely relates to high cholesterol treatment, rather than a protective or helpful effect of cholesterol. About 45 percent of the patients were being treated with cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins before their stroke, said Eugenia Gencheva, M.D., a research fellow at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Center for Stroke Research. The research was conducted at Rush Medical College in Chicago.

"We're certainly not saying that the high cholesterol itself is protective," added David Nyenhuis, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology and rehabilitation at UIC. "Patients who had elevated cholesterol levels were more likely to be treated with statin drugs. We believe that perhaps statins were exerting the protective effect."

Elevated cholesterol is a risk factor for atherosclerotic vascular disease. In this observational study, hypercholesterolemia was determined by self-report and verification of current medication. Participants taking cholesterol-lowering drugs were defined as hypercholesterolemic, although their cholesterol levels might have been within acceptable limits as a result of their treatment.

Several observational studies have indicated that statin therapy is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. However, the precise mechanisms by which statins might affect cognitive impairment are poorly understood, Gencheva said.

"Other research has shown that the effect of statins might be mediated by direct cholesterol-lowering properties, causing a reduction in choles

Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association

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