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Statins Sometimes Raise Stroke Risk, Study Says: Who's at Risk?

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(CBS) Talk about irony. Statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs celebrated for their ability to prevent stroke and heart attack, may do more harm than good in some patients.

Patients who have already experienced an intracerebral (bleeding in the brain) are more likely to experience another if they take statins, according to a new study to be published in the May issue of "Archives of Neurology." In these patients, the risks of taking a statin may outweight the benefits, say the scientists who did the research.

Because people who have experienced bleeding in the brain often have high cholesterol and other cardiovascular risk factors that might warrant statin therapy, "it is important to weigh the risks and benefits of statin therapy in this population," wrote the study's authors, including Dr. M. Brandon Westover, of Massachusetts General Hospital, according to a written statement.

He said the computer model at the core of his research suggested that whether statins make sense may depend on the location of the intracerebral hemorrhage.

Statin therapy may be riskier in patients whose bleeding occurred in the upper portion of the brain than in those whose bleeding occurred deep within the brain. "Consequently, the optimal treatment option may vary with specific circumstances," the authors wrote.

Several statins are now on the market, including familiar names like atorvastatin (Lipitor), simvastatin (Zocor), and rosuvastatin (Crestor).

What explains the increased risk posed by statins? Researchers say a low cholesterol level achieved with statins might interfere with blood clotting, or that statins might have their own anticlotting properties.

In an editorial that accompanied the study, Duke University's Dr. Larry B. Goldstein underscored the conclusion that doctors shouldn't prescribe statins to people who have suffered an intracerebral hemorrhage. In the absence of new data to the contrary, statins should generally be considered off-limits to patients these patients. Doctors should be guided by the maxim of "primum non nocere."

Latin a little rusty? That means "first, do no harm."