Drugs Protect Against Post-Stroke Damage

Anticoagulant medications such as Warfarin have long been known to help prevent strokes, but now a large Danish study has shown that the blood thinners can also reduce the risk of death and brain damage when a stroke happens anyway. The research was published in Stroke – Journal of the American Heart Association.

A release from the university quotes senior research consultant Søren Paaske Johnsen as saying, "Our study shows that the anticoagulant medicine also appears to protect the patients who still suffer the misfortune of a stroke. The risk of suffering serious brain damage or death due to a thrombosis in the brain is significantly smaller for the patients with atrial fibrillation who received anticoagulant medicine, compared to those who did not receive the medicine." Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm that primarily afflicts people over 50 years of age. Søren Paaske Johnsen carried out the study in collaboration with colleagues from Aarhus University, Aarhus University Hospital, Gentofte Hospital, and Odense University Hospital.

Via the Danish National Patient Registers, the researchers have followed a total of 11,356 Danes with atrial fibrillation who were admitted to hospital during the period from 2003 to 2009 after suffering a stroke. The study is the largest of its kind.

"Only 22 percent of the patients were undergoing relevant treatment with anticoagulant medicine when they were admitted with a stroke. With the knowledge we have now about the protective effect of the medicine, it is of course important to be particularly aware of the patients who could benefit from treatment with anticoagulant medicine," says Søren Paaske Johnsen.

Both mortality within 30 days and the degree of brain damage appears to be lower for patients under anticoagulant treatment. Søren Paaske Johnsen emphasises that there are human, healthcare, and financial benefits to be gained if brain damage can be reduced

That only a minority of patients with atrial fibrillation are treated with anticoagulant medicine could be due to the fact that the treatment will increase the risk of suffering a brain hemorrhage for a minority of patients:

"Treatment with anticoagulant medicine balances on a bit of a razor's edge, as we know that it will help a large group of patients, but at the same time can give side-effects in the form of brain hemorrhages for a small group. But research, including our latest study, clearly shows that there may be great benefits to be gained by not being quite as cautious with the medicine as we have been previously. This is very much about finding the patients who will benefit most from the anticoagulant medicine. Fortunately there are good clinical tools available, where we look at the patient's age, previous heart disease and other relevant factors."

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