(CBS) Warfarin may be the usual drug for preventing strokes in people with the heart rhythm problem known as atrial fibrillation, but a new study shows that an experimental blood thinner called apixaban works way better.
In addition to being 21 percent less likely to have a stroke, people who took apixaban (Eliquis) were 31 less likely to experience bleeding problems and had a 11 percent reduction in mortality, the study's lead author, Duke University's Dr. Christopher B. Granger, said in a written statement.
The study, which involved more than 18,000 patients in 39 countries, also showed that apixaban works safely without the regular blood tests that are essential for people taking warfarin (Coumadin). And apixaban has fewer interactions between foods and other drugs.
The benefits could mean more people with AF could get the life-saving treatment they need.
"There is an enormous unmet need for treatment of patients at risk for stroke associated with atrial fibrillation," Granger said. "Only about half of patients who should be treated are being treated" because of the limitations of warfarin treatment.
Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at UCLA, hailed the news about apixiban, which is being developed by Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Pfizer. "This represents a very important therapeutic advance in the care of patients with atrial fibrillation," he told HealthDay.
The study was published in the August 28 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
About 2.6 million Americans have AF. The condition is marked by disorganized electrical activity within the heart. The resulting irregularity in heart rate results in poor blood flow to the body and can increase the risk for stroke. Symptoms of AF include heart palpitations and shortness of breath.
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has more on atrial fibrillation.