BP is the most important determinant of the risk of stroke. A small reduction in BP results in a substantial reduction of both ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke. Any of the commonly used antihypertensive drugs lower the incidence of stroke, with larger reductions in BP resulting in larger reductions in risk. Experimental evidence has linked the renin-angiotensin system (RAS) to the development and progression of cerebrovascular disease. Inhibition of the RAS has beneficial cerebrovascular effects and may reduce the risk of stroke in a manner possibly independent from the alterations of BP. Some clinical trials even suggest that ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II type 1 receptor antagonists (angiotensin receptor blockers [ARBs]) exert cerebroprotective effects beyond BP lowering, but the evidence is controversial. Studies on specific protective actions of antihypertensive drugs are generally hampered by the fact that any treatment-related difference in BP may play a dominant role in the prevention of stroke. There are also indications that the protective potency of ARBs might be superior to that of ACE inhibitors, due to their differential activation of angiotensin II type 2 receptors, but the clinical relevance of this mechanism is unclear. Some studies in primary prevention of stroke, acute stroke, and secondary prevention show advantages for ARBs beyond controlling BP alone. In primary prevention, the LIFE randomized trial showed a significant difference in stroke rate in favor of losartan compared with atenolol despite similar reductions in BP. In acute stroke, the role of hypertension and its treatment remains controversial. ACCESS, however, suggested that an ARB is safe in hypertensive acute stroke patients and may offer advantages independent from BP control. In secondary stroke prevention, there are very few antihypertensive trials. These trials show that BP lowering is at least as successful as in primary prevention, but the absolute stroke risk is much higher. An ACE inhibitor was effective compared with placebo in the PROGRESS trial. The MOSES study showed that eprosartan prevented vascular events more effectively than nitrendipine, despite similar BP-lowering effects. Hypertension is not only the most important risk factor for stroke, but is also closely correlated with cognitive decline and dementia. Therefore, prevention of cognitive decline or even improvement of slightly diminished brain function should be an important goal for antihypertensive treatment in the future. Some clinical data suggest advantages for ACE inhibitors, ARBs, and calcium channel antagonists. Currently, however, the existing data are not sufficient for clinical recommendations. Therefore, ongoing trials will further define the exact role of inhibitors of the RAS and are urgently needed in secondary prevention, in acute stroke, and in the prevention of cognitive decline.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)