LONDON (AP) _ New research has found that giving stroke patients blood pressure pills and diuretics could halve the chance of their suffering another stroke _ a discovery experts say is probably the most important advance in stroke care to date.
Stroke, which happens when there is a blood clot or bleeding in the brain, is the second biggest killer worldwide. At least a quarter of all stroke deaths occur in people who have suffered a previous stroke or a ``mini-stroke,'' experts say.
A major study, presented to scientists Saturday at a meeting of the European Society of Hypertension in Milan, Italy, found that when the blood pressure drug Aceon, together with a diuretic, was given to stroke patients for four years, one patient in every 14 was spared a second stroke. Other complications such as heart attack and dementia also were dramatically reduced.
``There are 50 million people worldwide who have survived a stroke. Most of them should get these drugs,'' said Dr. Norman Kaplan, a blood pressure expert and professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, who was not connected with the study. ``These results are very impressive. Until now, we have really not had a really good treatment.''
Aceon belongs to a class of drugs called ACE inhibitors. A study last year showed that people with heart disease reduced their chances of having a stroke if they took an ACE inhibitor.
But for people who have already had a stroke, doctors have shied away from medicine that lowers blood pressure, because they worried it could be bad for stroke patients if blood flow through the vessels to the brain slowed down too much.
Most stroke patients are given aspirin and an anti-clotting drug to ward off further problems, but still about one in five go on to suffer another stroke within four years.
In the study, 6,100 stroke patients from across Asia, Australasia and Europe were randomly given either Aceon and the diuretic Lozol or dummy pills for four years, along with any other medicines they were taking for other problems.
In the group receiving the drugs, 150 people had a stroke, compared with 255 of those getting the fake pills.
The treatment worked even for those who had normal blood pressure to start with.
``Overall about one in 10 patients given both study treatments avoided a stroke, heart attack or death from cardiovascular disease. These are some of the largest benefits ever seen in the prevention of chronic disease,'' said study leader Dr. Stephen MacMahon, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sydney.
Dr. Peter Rothwell, a neurologist at Oxford University in England, said the study provides probably the single most important set of results so far in stroke treatment.
``This would potentially be used on 80 percent of stroke patients,'' he said. ``I think this is definitive. The only question that remains is, is there something special about this drug per se or is it the lowering of blood pressure that brings the benefit?''
The study was partly funded by private French pharmaceutical company Servier, which manufactures Aceon.