Prevention of secondary stroke and transient ischaemic attack with antiplatelet therapy: the role of the primary care physician [corrected]

H S Kirshner
International Journal of Clinical Practice 2007, 61 (10): 1739-48

BACKGROUND: Stroke risk is heightened among patients who have had a primary stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA). The primary care physician is in the best position to monitor these patients for stroke recurrence. Because stroke recurrence can occur shortly after the primary event, guidelines recommend initiating antiplatelet therapy as soon as possible. Aspirin, with or without extended-release dipyridamole (ER-DP), and clopidogrel are options for such patients. Low-dose aspirin (75-150 mg/day) has the same efficacy as higher doses but with less gastrointestinal bleeding. Clopidogrel remains an option for prevention of secondary events and may benefit patients with symptomatic atherothrombosis, but its combined use with aspirin can harm patients with multiple risk factors and no history of symptomatic cerebrovascular, cardiovascular or peripheral vascular disease.

RESULTS: Low dose aspirin is effective in secondary stroke prevention. Trials assessing aspirin plus ER-DP have shown that the combination is more effective than aspirin monotherapy in preventing stroke, with efficacy increasing among higher risk patients, notably those with prior stroke/TIA. Clopidogrel does not appear to have as much advantage over aspirin in secondary stroke prevention as aspirin plus ER-DP. Smoking cessation and cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure control are also important concerns in preventing recurrent stroke. In choosing pharmacological therapy, the physician must consider the individual patient's risk factors and tolerance, as well as other issues, such as use of aspirin among patients with ulcers.

CONCLUSION: Antiplatelet therapy is effective in secondary stroke prevention. Low dose aspirin can be used first-line, but aspirin plus ER-DP improves efficacy. Clopidogrel is another option in secondary stroke prevention, especially for aspirin-intolerant patients, but it appears to have less advantage over aspirin than aspirin plus ER-DP, and its combined use with aspirin has only marginally better efficacy and increased bleeding risk.

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