Aspirin should no longer be used to try to prevent strokes in people with a common heart rhythm disorder, according to new guidelines.
Government experts say that aspirin is ineffective and has acted as a ‘smokescreen’, preventing people from getting the right treatment.
Atrial fibrillation (AF) affects more than one million Britains and up to 40 per cent of patients currently diagnosed with AF have been prescribed aspirin. They have nowbeen advised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to see their GP and discuss alternative medication.
Those who suffer from AF have increased risk fivefold of stroke, and whilst some patients may be taking aspirin for other health conditions, many are likely to have been prescribed aspiring alone, solely for stroke prevention.
Jo Jerrome, Deputy CEO, AF Association comments: “AF is extremely common – we each have a one in four chance of developing this irregular rhythm in our lifetime. Sadly, too often people are unaware of the condition or of the increased risk of suffering an AF-related stroke. It is vital that AF is quickly detected, diagnosed and appropriately managed to reduce the high number of preventable AF-related strokes suffered each year.
“AF Association is committed to supporting the updated 2014 NICE AF Guidelines to make sure these recommendations are adopted as soon as possible. I urge anyone who is diagnosed with AF and either solely taking aspirin for AF-related stroke prevention alone, or who have not been assessed for an appropriate anticoagulation therapy, to make an appointment with their clinician to discuss their own risks and the most suitable treatment option to reduce their risk of AF-related stroke."
People are now being advised to take anticoagulationwhich is less likely to cause side effects including internal bleeding. Patients are advised to seek advice from their GP before stopping their current medication, but the guidance recommends that anticoagulant drugs which prevent clots from forming should be prescribed instead.
Professor Martin Cowie, Professor of Cardiology at Imperial College London and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at the Royal Brompton Hospital, London comments: “This long-awaited update to the NICE guideline is expected to prompt much needed changes to address outdated prescribing practices which may expose some people with AF to an unnecessarily high risk of stroke. For years aspirin has been perceived as a quick and easy option in the prevention of stroke in people with AF, however in reality it provides inadequate protection. There are other treatment options available on the NHS to help prevent stroke in people with non-valvular AF, some of which do not require routine coagulation monitoring. It is important that anyone with AF taking aspirin solely to help prevent stroke seeks advice from their doctor and discusses the most appropriate treatment options.”
Management of patients with AF with anticoagulation medication could reduce the risk of 7,100 strokes and save 2,100 lives every year in the UK. In 2013 only 36 per cent of patients in the UK with known AF admitted to hospital with a stroke were taking an anticoagulant. The NHS estimates that 46 per cent of patients with AF who would benefit from anticoagulation are not currently receiving it.
Joe Korner, Director of External Affairs at the Stroke Association, said: “AF is linked to over 22,500 strokes in the UK each year, yet we know that the appropriate anti-coagulation treatment can help to reduce AF patients’ relative risk of stroke by 60 per cent. That is why it is vital that people with AF get the right treatment as quickly as possible. The rapid implementation of the new recommendations made by NICE is crucial if we are to save people from the devastating impact of stroke. Anyone with AF should speak to their GP to discuss their stroke risk and the treatment options available.”