Could a Blood Thinner Actually Raise Stroke Risk for Some?

Could a Blood Thinner Actually Raise Stroke Risk for Some?

Taking blood-thinning drugs is typically thought to ward off stroke in people with the heart rhythm disorder atrial fibrillation.

Sign Up & Receive Your Personalized MedCircle Digest Delivered To Your Inbox.
Join today!

However, new research out of Britain hints -- but cannot prove -- that the drugs might actually raise the odds of stroke in seniors with a-fib who also have kidney disease.

"Chronic kidney disease is common among older people, and one in three people affected also have atrial fibrillation, commonly called an irregular heartbeat -- and for that, they typically get prescribed blood thinners to reduce their risk of stroke," noted lead researcher Shankar Kumar, of University College London (UCL).

However, "we found that in this particular group, their medication seems to do the opposite of its intended effect," Kumar, a researcher with UCL's Centre for Medical Imaging, said in a university news release.

Still, one U.S. cardiologist said that patients who fall into this category don't need to panic.

Dr. Michael Goyman directs clinical cardiology at Northwell Health's Long Island Jewish Forest Hills hospital, in Forest Hills, N.Y. He stressed that the new study couldn't prove cause-and-effect, and contained numerous limitations.

So, while the findings do need to be followed up in a more rigorous trial, "patients should not make decisions about the benefit of blood thinners without consulting their physicians," Goyman said.

The new study included more than 4,800 British people, aged 65 and older, who had chronic kidney disease plus a recent diagnosis of a-fib.

Half of the patients were taking some sort of blood thinner for the heart condition.

Over an average follow-up of nearly 17 months, those taking blood thinners were 2.6 times more likely to have a stroke and 2.4 times more likely to have bleeding than those who did not take the drugs.

However, the death rate in the blood thinner group was slightly lower, and might have been due to a reduced risk of fatal stroke or heart attack, according to the study.

The findings were published Feb. 14 in the BMJ journal.

According to Kumar's group, the new findings suggest doctors need to be more careful about prescribing blood thinners to seniors with chronic kidney disease, at least until more research provides a clearer idea of the risks.

"People with chronic kidney disease tend to have numerous severe complications, including cardiovascular illnesses," explained senior study author John Camm, a professor of clinical cardiology at St George's, University of London.

"As their blood clots more but they also bleed more easily, it is extremely difficult to strike a balance between different treatments," he said.

Kumar added: "This is clearly a very complex area. We strongly call for randomized, controlled studies to test the clinical value and safety of anticoagulant drug therapy for people with both atrial fibrillation and chronic kidney disease."

Dr. Satjit Bhusri is a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He wasn't involved in the new research, but reviewed the findings and agreed that -- for now at least -- patients shouldn't be concerned.

"This observational study is just that, observational," and as such can't prove that the blood thinners are somehow causing more strokes, Bhusri said. He added that important details -- the types of blood thinners used, for example -- weren't included in the study.

In the end, Bhusri agreed with Kumar and Giyfman that more research is needed.

Sign Up & Receive Your Personalized MedCircle Digest Delivered To Your Inbox.
Join today!

In the meantime, he said, "the choice of blood thinner should be a patient-specific preference and risk-versus-benefit should be an active discussion. I would not rely on this study as a source of reference in that discussion."

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has more on blood thinners.


Copyright © 2013-2018 HealthDay. All rights reserved.


Related Content

Empowering Kids In An Anxious World
Empowering Kids In An Anxious World

Rates of anxiety and depression among teens in the U.S. have been rising for yea...

Read more
Key Social Reward Circuit in the Brain Impaired in Kids With Autism
Key Social Reward Circuit in the Brain Impaired in Kids With Autism

Children with autism have structural and functional abnormalities in the brain c...

Read more
‘It's Like My Brain Was Punched’: The Rise of OCD and Perfectionism
‘It's Like My Brain Was Punched’: The Rise of OCD and Perfectionism

Tom Nicol thought he had a problem with sleep. He could never get enough. He too...

Read more
Farming Nonprofit Helps Vets With PTSD Reintegrate Into Civilian Life
Farming Nonprofit Helps Vets With PTSD Reintegrate Into Civilian Life

An average of 20 veterans commit suicide each day—a statistic that weighs on the...

Read more
Student Mental Health Support Must Improve, Universities Told
Student Mental Health Support Must Improve, Universities Told

Universities are being told to "dramatically improve" support for students with ...

Read more
Destiny's Child's Michelle Williams 'Proudly' Seeking Mental Health Help
Destiny's Child's Michelle Williams 'Proudly' Seeking Mental Health Help

Destiny's Child singer Michelle Williams says she has "sought help" for the good...

Read more