Switching patients at risk of strokes and blood clots to a new blood-thinning drug could help save thousands of lives and prevent the often-debilitating effects of such events in those who survive, the results of a major trial suggest.
The study found that the new drug, dabigatran etexilate, reduced the risk of stroke in high-risk patients by 30% more than the standard treatment warfarin after researchers compared the effects of the medications in a group of 18,000 patients from 44 countries.
All of the patients had atrial fibrillation (AF), a common heart rhythm disorder that greatly increases the chances of blood clots and strokes and they were split into low, moderate and high-risk groups before being monitored for two years.
As well as reducing the risk of stroke in high-risk patients by almost a third, dabigatran also demonstrated significantly better performance with low and medium-risk patients.
Annual stroke rate was reduced by up to 90% in AF patients when the effects of dabigatran were compared with receiving no treatment at all.
Dabigatran avoids many of the problems associated with warfarin and is said to be far easier to manage.
Sold under the brand name Pradaxa, the drug is expected to become generally available in the UK in August, but will be significantly more expensive than warfarin. Currently, it can only be prescribed to prevent blood clots after hip and knee replacement 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.