Risk of early death and recurrent stroke and effect of heparin in 3169 patients with acute ischemic stroke and atrial fibrillation in the international stroke trial

R Saxena, Stephanie Lewis, Eivind Berge, Peter Sandercock, Peter J Koudstaal

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Background and purpose: We sought to investigate the apparently high risk of early death after an ischemic stroke among patients with atrial fibrillation (AF), identify the main factors associated with early death, and assess the effect of treatment with different doses of subcutaneous unfractionated heparin (UFH) given within 48 hours. Methods: We studied the occurrence of major clinical events within 14 days among 18 451 patients from the International Stroke Trial, first for all treatment groups combined. Then, among patients with AF, we examined the effects of treatment with subcutaneous UFH started within 48 hours and continued until 14 days after stroke onset. Results: A total of 3169 patients (17%) had AF. Seven hundred eighty-four patients were allocated to UFH 12 500 IU SC BID, 773 to UFH 5000 IU SC BID, and 1612 to no heparin. Within each of these groups, half of the patients were randomly assigned to aspirin 300 mg once daily. Compared with patients without AF, patients with AF were more likely to be female (56% versus 45%), to be old (mean age, 78 versus 71 years), to have an infarct on prerandomization CT (57% versus 47%), and to have impaired consciousness (37% versus 20%). The initial ischemic stroke type was more often a large-artery infarct (36% versus 21%). A lacunar stroke syndrome was less common (13% versus 26%). Death within 14 days was more common in patients with AF (17% versus 8%) and more often attributed to neurological damage from the initial stroke (10% versus 4%). The frequency of recurrent ischemic or undefined stroke was not significantly different (3.9% versus 3.3%). The proportion of AF patients with further events within 14 days allocated to UFH 12 500 IU (n=784), UFH 5000 IU (n=773), and to no-heparin (n=1612) groups were as follows: ischemic stroke, 2.3%, 3.4%, 4.9% (P=0.001); hemorrhagic stroke, 2.8%, 1.3%, 0.4% (P<0.0001); and any stroke or death, 18.8%, 19.4% and 20.7% (P=0.3), respectively. No effect of heparin on the proportion of patients dead or dependent at 6 months was apparent. Conclusions: Acute ischemic stroke patients with AF have a higher risk of early death, which can be explained by older age and larger infarcts but not by a higher risk of early recurrent ischemic stroke, although slightly more patients with AF died from a fatal recurrent stroke of ischemic or unknown type (1.3% versus 0.9%). In patients with AF the absolute risk of early recurrent stroke is low, and there is no net advantage to treatment with heparin. These data do not support the widespread use of intensive heparin regimens in the acute phase of ischemic stroke associated with AF.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2333-2337
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2001


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