Thousands of strokes could be prevented each year by a simple switch of medication, a major drug trial has suggested.
Researchers examining the effects of dabigatran etexilate, a new type of blood-thinner, in 18,000 patients over a two-year period found that the treatment reduced the likelihood of a stroke by between 30% and 90%.
The study separated the volunteers, all of whom suffered from the heart rhythm disorder atrial fibrillation, into groups according to their risk level, prescribing them with the drug and comparing the results to those treated with warfarin, an existing treatment.
Researchers found that dabigatran reduced the annual stroke rate in medium and low risk groups by an astonishing 90%, with a reduction of 30% discovered among those most likely to have a stroke or blood clot.
The drug also has the advantage of fewer side effects than warfarin, with doctors reporting that it is easier to manage.
It is expected that dabigatran, sold under the name Pradaxa, will be available to patients in the UK from August, albeit a significantly higher price than warfarin. It can currently only be prescribed to prevent clots after certain kinds of surgery.
The new research, forming part of the Re-Ly (Randomised Evaluation of Long term anti-coagulant therapy) trial, was presented at American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session in Atlanta, Georgia.