Drug treatments in the secondary prevention of ischaemic stroke.
Stroke is an important cause of death and disability. However, about two thirds of cerebrovascular events are initially minor. They carry a high risk of potentially severe recurrent events, but they also offer an opportunity for secondary prevention to avoid such recurrences. As most recurrent events occur within a short time after the initial presentation, secondary prevention has to be started as soon as possible. Dramatic risk reduction can be achieved with well-established drugs if used in a timely manner. A standard secondary preventive regimen will address multiple vascular risk factors and will usually consist of an antiplatelet agent, a lipid lowering drug, and an antihypertensive agent. Depending on the risk factor profile of each patient, this will have to be adjusted individually, for example, taking into account the presence of cardioembolism or of stenotic disease of the brain-supplying arteries. In recent years, the approach to treating these risk factors has evolved. In addition to absolute blood pressure, blood pressure variability has emerged as an important contributing factor to stroke risk, which is affected differently by different antihypertensive agents. New oral anticoagulants reduce the risk of cerebral haemorrhage and the need for regular blood checks. The best antiplatelet regimen for stroke prevention is still uncertain, and treatment of dyslipidaemia may change if trials with cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) inhibitors, which increase levels of HDL-cholesterol, are successful. This article reviews the current evidence for drug treatments in the secondary prevention of ischaemic stroke.