EvidenceAlerts

Diener HC, Sacco RL, Easton JD, et al. Dabigatran for Prevention of Stroke after Embolic Stroke of Undetermined Source. N Engl J Med. 2019 May 16;380(20):1906-1917. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1813959. (Original study)
Abstract

BACKGROUND: Cryptogenic strokes constitute 20 to 30% of ischemic strokes, and most cryptogenic strokes are considered to be embolic and of undetermined source. An earlier randomized trial showed that rivaroxaban is no more effective than aspirin in preventing recurrent stroke after a presumed embolic stroke from an undetermined source. Whether dabigatran would be effective in preventing recurrent strokes after this type of stroke was unclear.

METHODS: We conducted a multicenter, randomized, double-blind trial of dabigatran at a dose of 150 mg or 110 mg twice daily as compared with aspirin at a dose of 100 mg once daily in patients who had had an embolic stroke of undetermined source. The primary outcome was recurrent stroke. The primary safety outcome was major bleeding.

RESULTS: A total of 5390 patients were enrolled at 564 sites and were randomly assigned to receive dabigatran (2695 patients) or aspirin (2695 patients). During a median follow-up of 19 months, recurrent strokes occurred in 177 patients (6.6%) in the dabigatran group (4.1% per year) and in 207 patients (7.7%) in the aspirin group (4.8% per year) (hazard ratio, 0.85; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.69 to 1.03; P = 0.10). Ischemic strokes occurred in 172 patients (4.0% per year) and 203 patients (4.7% per year), respectively (hazard ratio, 0.84; 95% CI, 0.68 to 1.03). Major bleeding occurred in 77 patients (1.7% per year) in the dabigatran group and in 64 patients (1.4% per year) in the aspirin group (hazard ratio, 1.19; 95% CI, 0.85 to 1.66). Clinically relevant nonmajor bleeding occurred in 70 patients (1.6% per year) and 41 patients (0.9% per year), respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: In patients with a recent history of embolic stroke of undetermined source, dabigatran was not superior to aspirin in preventing recurrent stroke. The incidence of major bleeding was not greater in the dabigatran group than in the aspirin group, but there were more clinically relevant nonmajor bleeding events in the dabigatran group. (Funded by Boehringer Ingelheim; RE-SPECT ESUS ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT02239120.).


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Ratings
Discipline Area Score
Internal Medicine 6 / 7
Family Medicine (FM)/General Practice (GP) 6 / 7
General Internal Medicine-Primary Care(US) 6 / 7
Hemostasis and Thrombosis 6 / 7
Neurology 6 / 7
Comments from MORE raters

Neurology rater

The trial is similar to the NAVIGATE ESUS trial in showing that a NOAC (dabigatran) was not superior to aspirin in patients with recurrent embolic strokes of unknown source. The bleeding risk may be a bit higher with NOACs and there is a possibility that if patients were followed long enough a NOAC might help those with undetected atrial fibrillation. For now, there is no justification in using a NOAC over ASA in ESUS patients. A greater effort needs to be made in the search for atrial fibrillation, as that population should benefit from anticoagulation. (I am not sure why apixaban, which has the best safety factor for bleeding, was not used in these comparative trials.)
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