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New Drug May Help Patients With Irregular Heartbeat Avoid Stroke
Date:2/11/2011

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Feb. 10 (HealthDay News) -- A new anti-clotting drug works better than aspirin for stroke prevention in some patients with the common, sometimes lethal, heart rhythm problem known as atrial fibrillation, according to research presented Thursday.

The new drug, apixaban, is not yet approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But study co-author Dr. Hans-Christoph Diener said the pill "reduced stroke risk [in patients with atrial fibrillation] by 55 percent, compared to aspirin." He believes that "the results of this clinical trial will change clinical practice."

Diener, of the department of neurology and the Stroke Center at University Hospital Essen in Germany, presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles. The findings are also published online Feb. 10 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In atrial fibrillation, an irregular beating of the heart causes blood to pool in the heart's chambers. The heart can then "throw" clots up into the arteries supplying blood to the brain, greatly raising the risks for stroke.

Patients with atrial fibrillation are typically prescribed anticoagulants such as warfarin, which is notoriously hard to manage, Diener said at a news conference announcing the study results.

Anticoagulants taken orally can decrease stroke risk by up to 70 percent, according to Diener, but many patients don't comply with the regimen. "About half of all patients refuse to take [warfarin]," he noted, because its use is accompanied by dietary restrictions and the need for frequent blood tests to check blood levels of the drug. Some patients also fear the possibility of a known hazard of warfarin, an excess risk for bleeding.

Many patients who can't or won't take warfarin do take daily aspirin, which cuts the odds of stroke in atrial fib
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