October 12, 2011

Statins May Aid Brain Injury Patients

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Cholesterol lowering drugs may help older patients with head injuries

(dailyRx News) Medication to lower cholesterol may have some unexpected benefits. In older patients, statins to lower cholesterol significantly improve survival rates after a traumatic brain injury.

Patients over the age of 65 who take such drugs are 76 percent more likely to live following a serious brain injury. They also contribute to a 13 percent better chance of achieving a strong, functional recovery within one year.

"Continue taking statins as instructed by your doctor."

Eric B. Schneider, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research, and leader of the study, said that the findings are intriguing. He does not suspect that lowered cholesterol is helping the brain recover in patients who take statins. Instead he suspects that less well-known properties of statins may be causing the benefits.

Currently there is no specific drug treatment for traumatic brain injury, so the results offer hope that statins could be a potential treatment. About 40 percent of Americans over the age of 65 already take statins.

During the study researchers examined data collected between July 2001 and November 2002 at 69 U.S. hospitals as part of the National Study on Costs and Outcomes of Trauma. They focused on patients over the age of 65 since they were much more likely to be taking statins to control cholesterol.

Investigators reviewed records of 523 patients with moderate to severe brain injury. Of those, 117, or 22 percent, were taking statins at the time of the injury. In addition to finding that patients taking statins were less likely to die, researchers found that patients with documented heart disease that took statin medication did not receive the same brain benefit.

Schneider said that in addition to lowering cholesterol, statins are anti-inflammatory and known to help regulate the body's immune response. Following a brain injury, a secondary injury can occur when the body's immune response attacks healthy tissue in addition to damaged tissue.

A statin is suspected of keeping that from happening. It also is possible that statins may aid with the function of the blood-brain barrier by keeping excess white blood cells out of the brain and ensuring that dangerous chemical byproducts of the injury do not reach the rest of the body.

Researchers are planning a clinical trial to give statins to patients with brain injuries who were not previously taking the medication immediately after arriving at the emergency room to determine whether the cholesterol-lowering drug can benefit recovery. Though the results are promising, investigators are not yet recommending that statins be provided as a treatment.

The research is published in the October issue of The Journal of Trauma.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
October 11, 2011

Last Updated:
October 12, 2011