Patients with an irregular heartbeat have been given new hope after the trial of a new drug showed it can significantly reduce the chance of blood clots and stroke.
According to results of the trial, which involved 14,000 patients, rivaroxaban can cut the risk of stroke and blood clots by up to a fifth when compared with the standard drug used, called warfarin.
A normal resting heart rate should be between 60 and 100 beats a minute, but an irregular heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrilation (AF), occurs when the heart beats out of synch or is abnormally fast.
In some cases the heart rate can be as high as 140 beats a minute.
AF can come in three major forms, with episodes lasting from between 48 hours to more than a year.
The condition is the most common heart rhythm disturbance and affects around 800,000 people in the UK - one in 100 people. It is more common among the elderly, with about one in 10 of those over 75 suffering from AF.
Both rivaroxaban and warfarin work by thinning the blood to reduce the risk of clots. Rivaroxaban is already recommended on the NHS to prevent blood clots in people undergoing hip and knee replacement surgery.
In the new study, researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Duke University in North Carolina, in the US, found rivaroxaban cut the risk of blood clots and strokes by an extra fifth compared with warfarin.
Patients treated with warfarin are half as likely to have a stroke compared with those taking no treatment or aspirin, but the dose needs to be closely monitored by medical staff, sometimes once a week.
Too high a dose can lead to internal bleeding, which can prove fatal, and too low a dose increases the risk of stroke.
The researchers behind the study said rivaroxaban does not need to be monitored as closely and is not affected by certain foods or alcohol.
They found rivaroxaban did not increase the risk of internal bleeding compared with warfarin, suggesting that it is a suitable alternative.
Keith Fox, British Heart Foundation professor of cardiology at the University of Edinburgh, presented the research - carried out in 45 countries - at the American Heart Association conference in Chicago.