Antithrombotic therapy is a key component of any strategy for the secondary prevention of ischemic stroke. A better understanding of the various therapeutic options will lead to improved stroke prevention, better medication adherence, and fewer complications.
Antiplatelet agents and anticoagulants are the two major classes of antithrombotic therapy used for stroke prevention. The etiology and mechanism of the stroke must be considered in order to make the best decision regarding which agent(s) to use for secondary stroke prevention. The recent Prevention Regimen for Effectively Avoiding Second Strokes (PRoFESS) study showed that clopidogrel and aspirin plus extended-release dipyridamole had similar event rates in terms of recurrent stroke, but clopidogrel was better tolerated, with fewer bleeding events. Several new anticoagulants are poised to replace warfarin for stroke prevention in the setting of atrial fibrillation. These include dabigatran (a new oral direct thrombin inhibitor) and possibly apixaban (a new oral factor Xa inhibitor). These new medications are much easier to use than warfarin and may be more effective and safer, with fewer drug and food interactions and no need for routine blood monitoring. Thus, these new medications may improve adherence as well as clinicians' inclination to treat with anticoagulation.
Because each antiplatelet agent or anticoagulant has certain advantages and disadvantages, clinicians must choose an agent that the patient can afford and tolerate in terms of side effects and adherence. The hope and expectation is that the proper use of these medications in accordance with current guidelines will reduce the risk of a recurrent stroke.
Address correspondence to Dr Mark J. Alberts, Department of Neurology, Northwestern University Medical School, 710 N Lake Shore Drive, Room 1420, Chicago, IL 60611, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Relationship Disclosure: Dr Alberts has received honoraria or consulting fees from Pfizer Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Boehringer-Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Genentech, Inc., Sanofi-Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Mitsubishi Pharma, Lundbeck, Merck, Ortho-McNeil, and EKR Therapeutics. Dr Alberts has received royalty payments from Athena. Dr Alberts has received research support from AGA Medical, Merck, and EKR Therapeutics. Dr Alberts has received medicolegal consulting fees from various law firms.
Unlabeled Use of Products/Investigational Use Disclosure: Dr Alberts reports no disclosure.