Comparison of statins for secondary prevention in patients with ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack: a systematic review and network meta-analysis

BMC Med. 2019 Mar 26;17(1):67. doi: 10.1186/s12916-019-1298-5.


Background: Statins may prevent recurrent ischemic events after ischemic stroke. Determining which statin to use remains controversial. We aimed to summarize the evidence for the use of statins in secondary prevention for patients with ischemic stroke by comparing benefits and harms of various statins.

Methods: We searched for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) assessing statins in patients with ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) in MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CENTRAL up to July 2017. Two authors extracted data and appraised risks of bias. We performed pairwise meta-analyses and trial sequential analyses (TSA) to compare statins versus placebo/no statin, and network meta-analyses using frequentist random-effects models to compare statins through indirect evidence. We used GRADE to rate the overall certainty of evidence. Primary outcomes were all-cause mortality and all strokes. Secondary outcomes were different types of strokes, cardiovascular events, and adverse events.

Results: We identified nine trials (10,741 patients). No head-to-head RCTs were found. The median follow-up period was 2.5 years. Statins did not seem to modify all stroke and all-cause mortality outcomes; they were associated with a decreased risk of ischemic stroke (odds ratio, OR, 0.81 [95% CI, 0.70 to 0.93]; absolute risk difference, ARD, - 1.6% [95% CI, - 2.6 to - 0.6%]), ischemic stroke or TIA (OR, 0.75 [95% CI, 0.64 to 0.87]; ARD, - 4.2% [95% CI, - 6.2 to - 2.1%]), and cardiovascular event (OR, 0.75 [95% CI, 0.69 to 0.83]; ARD, - 5.4% [95% CI, - 6.8 to - 3.6%]), and did not seem to modify rhabdomyolysis, myalgia, or rise in creatine kinase. In the comparison of different statins, moderate- to high-quality evidence indicated that differences between pharmaceutical products seemed modest, with high doses (e.g., atorvastatin 80 mg/day and simvastatin 40 mg/day) associated with the greatest benefits. TSA excluded random error as a cause of the findings for ischemic stroke and cardiovascular event outcomes. Evidence for increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke was sensitive to the exclusion of the SPARCL trial.

Conclusions: Evidence strongly suggests that statins are associated with a reduction in the absolute risk of ischemic strokes and cardiovascular events. Differences in effects among statins were modest, signaling potential therapeutic equivalence.

Trial registration: PROSPERO CRD42018079112.

Keywords: Network meta-analysis; RCT; Secondary prevention; Statins; Stroke; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / drug therapy*
  • Network Meta-Analysis
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Stroke / drug therapy*
  • Stroke / prevention & control


  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors