Death and disability can be averted by quickly taking aspirin after a minor stroke, a study has found.
The blood-thinning drug is already given to people who have suffered a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), or “mini-stroke”, after they have been assessed in hospital.
But more urgent treatment greatly reduces the risk of a subsequent fatal or disabling stroke, new research shows.
Taking aspirin as soon as possible after experiencing “warning symptoms” increased the level of risk reduction from 15% to 70%-80%.
Professor Peter Rothwell, from Oxford University, said: “Our findings confirm the effectiveness of urgent treatment after TIA and minor stroke and show that aspirin is the most important component.
“Immediate treatment with aspirin can substantially reduce the risk and severity of early recurrent stroke. This finding has implications for doctors, who should give aspirin immediately if a TIA or minor stroke is suspected, rather than waiting for specialist assessment and investigations.”
The researchers analysed data from a total of 15 aspirin trials involving some 56,000 stroke patients.
They found that almost all of the benefit from aspirin was experienced in the first few weeks after an initial minor stroke.
Prof Rothwell added: “Public information campaigns have worked in getting more people to seek help sooner after a major stroke, but have been less effective in people who have had minor strokes or TIAs. Many patients don’t seek medical attention at all and many delay for a few days. Half of recurrent strokes in people who have a TIA happen before they seek medical attention for the TIA.
“Encouraging people to take aspirin if they think they may have had a TIA or minor stroke - experiencing sudden-onset unfamiliar neurological symptoms - could help to address this situation, particularly if urgent medical help is unavailable.”
The research is published in The Lancet medical journal.
Dr Dale Webb, from the Stroke Association, said: “A TIA is a medical emergency and urgent neurological assessment must always be sought. We welcome this research which shows that taking aspirin after TIA can dramatically reduce the risk and severity of further stroke. The findings suggest that anyone who has stroke symptoms which are improving while they are awaiting urgent medical attention can, if they are able, take one dose of 300mg aspirin.”