A new drug could significantly reduce the risk of strokes and blood clots in patients with irregular heartbeats.
A study found a new drug rivaroxaban cut the risk of blood clots and strokes by one-fifth compared with the most popular existing treatment, warfarin.
The research by the University of Edinburgh and Duke University in North Carolina was carried out in 45 countries and involved 14,000 patients
One in five people more than 70 years old is likely to be diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, which can lead to blood clots and cause strokes.
Both rivaroxaban and warfarin work by thinning the blood to reduce the risk of clots.
Our study showed that rivaroxaban is simpler to administer and patients taking it have fewer strokes and blood clots. We are now another step closer to an effective alternative to warfarin for patients with irregular heart beats and one that reduces complications and is easier to administer.
Patients treated with warfarin are half as likely to have a stroke compared with those taking no treatment or aspirin.
However, the dosage needs to be closely monitored - in some cases once a week.
Too high a dose can lead to internal bleeding, which can prove fatal, and too low a dose increases the risk of stroke.
Unlike warfarin, levels of the new drug do not need to be monitored as intently and the necessary dosage is not affected by certain foods or alcohol.
The research findings were presented at the American Heart Association conference in Chicago.
The study looked at patients with atrial fibrillation.
This is the most common abnormal heart rhythm disorders, in which the heart beats dangerously fast.
The study also found that use of rivaroxaban did not increase the risk of internal bleeding compared with warfarin, suggesting that it is a suitable alternative.
This important study adds rivaroxaban to the increasing list of new drugs that seem to be at least as good as warfarin. An additional advantage is that they do not require the close monitoring that warfarin does.