Better treatments now available to prevent stroke

ORLANDO, Fla. – At least 2.7 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation -- an irregular heartbeat that can lead to a stroke.

For years, the “go-to” treatment for preventing a stroke in these patients was the blood thinner Warfarin. But now, researchers say there’s something better.

Three years ago, Donna Marie Robinson was the picture of good health.

“I was working out three times a week, high intensity,” Robinson said.

But then she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, AFib, for short. That meant she had to slow down.

“Yeah, it’s a little depressing. You don’t have control over it,” Robinson said.

With AFib, the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly and don’t effectively move blood into the ventricles.

“The problem is that the blood sits without moving through the heart, and as it sits, it has a tendency to form clots," said Dr. Karen Ocorr, assistant professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys.

If a clot breaks off and lodges into an artery leading to the brain, a stroke happens.

For years, the gold-standard medicine to prevent a stroke in AFib patients was Warfarin. But now, the American Heart Association recommends a class of medicines called non-Vitamin K oral anticoagulants. It includes the drugs Eliquis, Pradaxa, Xarelto and Savaysa.

With these newer therapies, patients don’t need regular blood tests like they do with Warfarin. Also, studies show they may be more effective than Warfarin and less likely to cause bleeding.

Robinson takes Eliquis to lower her risk of stroke. So far, so good.

“I have a new normal,” she said.

Under the new guidelines, patients with AFib who have moderate to several mitral stenosis or an artificial heart valve should still take Warfarin. Talk to your doctor to see if you’re a candidate for the newer medicines.