Purpose of reviewTo establish the role of cholesterol-modifying therapy in stroke prevention.Recent findingsPopulation-based observational cohort studies show a variable weak positive relationship between increasing plasma total cholesterol concentrations and an increasing risk of ischaemic stroke, which is partly offset by a weaker negative association between decreasing total cholesterol concentrations and an increasing risk of with haemorrhagic stroke. However, randomized controlled trials show unequivocally that lowering plasma total cholesterol by approximately 1.2 mmol/l (and LDL-cholesterol by 1.0 mmol/l) is associated with a reduced relative risk of stroke and other serious vascular events by at least a quarter, and probably a third, without any increase in haemorrhagic stroke, in a wide range of men and women (including individuals with previous stroke). The proportional reduction in stroke risk is consistent, irrespective of the patient's age, baseline plasma cholesterol concentration, and absolute risk of stroke (although perhaps less in very low-risk individuals), but is increased with greater degrees of cholesterol lowering (15% or more), and thus with statin medications, which are more potent than non-statin interventions in lowering cholesterol levels. The absolute reduction in stroke risk achieved by statins is greatest among individuals at highest risk of stroke. Preliminary evidence suggests that lowering total cholesterol levels by diet may be an effective adjunctive therapy to statins, and raising plasma HDL-cholesterol concentrations among patients with coronary heart disease and low HDL-cholesterol levels (1 mmol/l) by means of gemfibrozil may also effectively prevent stroke.SummaryStatin drugs are effective and safe in preventing initial and recurrent stroke. However, because they are costly, they should probably be restricted to individuals with an annual risk of stroke and other serious vascular events of 3% or greater, and possibly as low as 1.5%, because routine monitoring of plasma cholesterol, and liver and muscle enzyme concentrations is probably no longer necessary.