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Calcium antagonists for aneurysmal subarachnoid haemorrhage.

BACKGROUND: Secondary ischaemia is a frequent cause of poor outcome in patients with subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH). Its pathogenesis has been incompletely elucidated, but vasospasm probably is a contributing factor. Experimental studies have suggested that calcium antagonists can prevent or reverse vasospasm and have neuroprotective properties.

OBJECTIVES: To determine whether calcium antagonists improve outcome in patients with aneurysmal SAH.

SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (last searched April 2006), MEDLINE (1966 to March 2006) and EMBASE (1980 to March 2006). We handsearched two Russian journals (1990 to 2003), and contacted trialists and pharmaceutical companies in 1995 and 1996.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials comparing calcium antagonists with control, or a second calcium antagonist (magnesium sulphate) versus control in addition to another calcium antagonist (nimodipine) in both the intervention and control groups.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently extracted the data and assessed trial quality. Trialists were contacted to obtain missing information.

MAIN RESULTS: Sixteen trials, involving 3361 patients, were included in the review; three of the studies were of magnesium sulphate in addition to nimodipine. Overall, calcium antagonists reduced the risk of poor outcome: the relative risk (RR) was 0.81 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.72 to 0.92); the corresponding number of patients needed to treat was 19 (95% CI 1 to 51). For oral nimodipine alone the RR was 0.67 (95% CI 0.55 to 0.81), for other calcium antagonists or intravenous administration of nimodipine the results were not statistically significant. Calcium antagonists reduced the occurrence of secondary ischaemia and showed a favourable trend for case fatality. For magnesium in addition to standard treatment with nimodipine, the RR was 0.75 (95% CI 0.57 to 1.00) for a poor outcome and 0.66 (95% CI 0.45 to 0.96) for clinical signs of secondary ischaemia.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Calcium antagonists reduce the risk of poor outcome and secondary ischaemia after aneurysmal SAH. The results for 'poor outcome' depend largely on a single large trial of oral nimodipine; the evidence for other calcium antagonists is inconclusive. The evidence for nimodipine is not beyond all doubt, but given the potential benefits and modest risks of this treatment, oral nimodipine is currently indicated in patients with aneurysmal SAH. Intravenous administration of calcium antagonists cannot be recommended for routine practice on the basis of the present evidence. Magnesium sulphate is a promising agent but more evidence is needed before definite conclusions can be drawn.

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