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But, lead researcher Dr. Christophe Tzourio, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Bordeaux and Inserm in France, doesn't think older people should start taking these drugs solely for stroke prevention.
"Our results should not be interpreted as an indication for prescribing statins or fibrates to elderly individuals. We wouldn't recommend changing medications based on the results of only one study," he said.
"The next step is to see whether we can replicate our findings or not," he added.
The report was published May 19 in the BMJ.
Statins include drugs such as Lipitor and Zocor. Fibrates, such as Bezalip and Tricor, are prescribed to patients who can't take statins or who need additional help getting their cholesterol levels down.
Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, "Randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that statins substantially lower the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as overall death in men and women, with benefits that outweigh the risk."
Statins together with a healthy lifestyle are recommended in guidelines for adults at increased risk for heart attack and stroke, even when cholesterol levels are normal, he said. "Statin therapy along with maintaining a healthy blood pressure are two of the most efficacious and cost effective ways to prevent strokes," Fonarow said.
Although some experts have questioned the use of statins in adults older than 75, most studies show that statins provide benefits that outweigh the risks, regardless of a patient's age, he said.
Fonarow said that although statins have been associated with a lower risk for stroke, no such evidence has been seen for fibrates.
"Although this study also suggests there was a benefit with fibrates, most clinical trials have failed to find a meaningful benefit with fibrate therapy," he said.
For the current study, Tzourio's team collected data on nearly 7,500 French men and women, average age 74 years, with no history of heart attack or stroke when the study began.
During an average follow-up of nine years, the investigators found that those who took statins or fibrates had a one-third lower risk of stroke compared with those who didn't take them. No association, however, was found between statins and a lower risk of heart disease in this group, the researchers said.
The reduction in the risk of stroke attributed to statins did not change when the researchers took into account other factors such as age, sex, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. However, because this was an observational study, the findings do not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
"If confirmed, these results suggest that keeping patients on cholesterol-lowering drugs could lower their stroke risk," Tzourio said. "But these findings should not be interpreted as an indication for starting these drugs in older adults," he added.
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SOURCES: Christophe Tzourio, M.D., Ph.D., professor, epidemiology, University of Bordeaux and Inserm, France; Gregg Fonarow, M.D., professor, cardiology, University of California, Los Angeles; May 19, 2015, BMJ