CNS Drugs

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 221–241

Secondary Prevention of Stroke

A Practical Guide to Drug Treatment
Therapy in Practice

DOI: 10.2165/00023210-200418040-00003

Cite this article as:
Koennecke, H.C. CNS Drugs (2004) 18: 221. doi:10.2165/00023210-200418040-00003


Stroke is a disease of the elderly and, as a result of the expected demographic changes in many industrialised countries, its incidence is likely to increase in the future. A first-ever stroke significantly increases the likelihood of further events; thus, secondary prevention is of major importance. Only a minority of recurrent strokes can be prevented by surgical or other invasive methods, meaning that most secondary preventive measures involve drug treatment, which has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years.

Ischaemic stroke constitutes the vast majority of all strokes; effective secondary prevention depends on a variety of factors, of which the correct classification in terms of subtypes and aetiological mechanisms is a pivotal prerequisite, as is the assessment of the patient’s cardiovascular risk profile. In addition to the evaluation of pathomechanisms, stratification of subtypes of brain infarction is mainly based on morphology seen with brain imaging techniques, which provides additional evidence for the presumed cause of the stroke.

Inhibitors of platelet function and anticoagulants are the two major groups of antithrombotic drugs used for the secondary prevention of stroke. Antiplatelet agents are still indicated in the majority of patients after ischaemic stroke, especially if an arterial origin is presumed. In addition to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), the position of which as the first-line antiplatelet drug is increasingly being questioned, other compounds with antiplatelet activity have been developed and have proven effective in secondary stroke prevention, including ticlopidine, clopidogrel and dipyridamole. Anticoagulants are principally indicated after cardioembolic ischaemic stroke; however, their inherent bleeding risks render their use in many cases rather difficult, in particular for elderly patients. Patient compliance with the recommended treatment is of major importance, given the somewhat limited efficacy of antithrombotic agents in stroke prevention. Since ‘real world’ experience does not match the circumstances under which clinical trials are conducted, this article will also deal with problems not covered by specific studies, such as risk stratification for anticoagulant treatment and how to proceed in cases of unknown stroke aetiology.

The management of major cardiovascular risk factors is the other mainstay of secondary stroke prevention. Recent evidence indicates that antihypertensive treatment may be as effective as antithrombotic drugs for secondary prevention of stroke. This still needs to be proven for the treatment of other cardiovascular risk factors, such as diabetes mellitus and hypercholesterolemia. Nevertheless, the results of recent studies investigating the effect of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (‘statins’) on cardiovascular events strongly suggest a stroke-preventive effect.

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© Adis Data Information BV 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of NeurologyBerlinGermany