Of the approximately 152,000 stroke victims in the UK each year, some 10% suffer haemorrhagic strokes – or ‘bleeding strokes’. Any stroke is potentially devastating, but bleeding strokes are particularly serious and far more likely to lead to the sufferer's death. Even those who survive are likely to have sustained neurological damage causing severe and permanent disability.
Until now, statins have been thought to be an ineffective treatment for bleeding strokes, as they lower cholesterol and therefore thin the blood. Many think they make bleeding worse and are inappropriate for treating bleeding strokes. But new research in the USA now seems to dispute this advice.
The study is the largest of its kind to date. It analysed data on patients who suffered bleeding strokes and compared those whose statins were stopped with those whose statins were continued. Of those stopped, only 42% survived beyond one month after their stroke. In contrast, 81% of patients who continued to take their statins survived the same period.
These compelling statistics are being reported as demonstrating the benefits of statins. These include reduced inflammation and improved blood flow to the brain, which may actually protect the patient against further brain damage and injury, rather than contribute to the bleeding.
The researchers suggest that the study provides sufficient evidence to recommend that patients who suffer from a bleeding stroke should be treated with statins for at least 30 days after their stroke. The Stroke Association is also optimistic that this is a "significant step" towards developing effective ways to help victims of bleeding strokes.
Commenting on the research, Arran Macleod, associate in Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team, said: "This latest research offers positive news for patients who suffer bleeding strokes. Some caution is needed, however, and statins may still not be appropriate for victims of some types of stroke. Importantly, it is also unclear what other medication may have been taken by the patients involved in the study and whether this may have contributed to the outcome in either group. While the latest research certainly demonstrates an improvement in the treatment methods available to patients suffering from bleeding strokes, further research into the effectiveness of statins is still needed. The issue of follow up after strokes is one that we come across frequently in our clinical negligence work. Too often there is no follow up and patients suffer further strokes which could have been avoided. This research may mean that post stroke management becomes more proactive."