In a recent study, researchers from the University of Aberdeen found that drugs routinely prescribed for allergies, heart disease and Parkinson’s are linked to higher risk of stroke.
The study shows that patients treated with drugs with anticholinergic’ side effects have a 60% increased risk of stroke.
Many common medications are known to have so-called anticholinergic properties.
This can lead to disruption in communication between parts of the nervous system, and can manifest symptomatically as blurred vision, confusion and memory loss.
The effect of anticholinergic drugs on stroke, however, has never been identified.
The researchers have demonstrated previously that these types of medicines are linked to poor health outcomes including death, dementia, falls and cardiovascular diseases.
However, the association between ACB and stroke risk has not been previously identified.
In the current study, the team calculated the risk of stroke in 22,000 people who were prescribed medicines with anticholinergic properties.
The study population was drawn from men and women aged between 39 – 79 years, who took part in the EPIC-Norfolk prospective population-based study.
In that study, 25,639 participants were invited from general practice age-sex registers to complete a baseline health examination from 1993 to 1997.
Participants were followed up in March 2016. This provided a long timeframe to examine the long-term risks of the medication.
The researchers found that those taking medicines with a high level of anticholinergic side effects had a 59% higher risk of developing stroke and a 86% higher risk of dying from stroke.
The team suggests that a number of plausible mechanisms exist within the literature to explain their findings.
Medicines with anticholinergic effects have been shown to affect inflammation.
This is important in the period immediately after a stroke, producing rapid and irregular heart rhythms and interfere with the body’s ability to regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
It is possible that diminishing these protective effects with anticholinergic drugs can make people more vulnerable to stroke.
This study is the first of its kind, and stroke is a potentially preventable condition.
The researchers suggest that it is possible to identify a new modifiable risk factor would have a significant impact on the global burden of stroke.
In addition, their findings are particularly relevant to clinicians and healthcare providers involved in prescribing and managing patient’s medications.
In the absence of trial evidence, this study provides best available evidence for clinicians and also provide justification to systematically examine the link in a randomized trial setting.
Dr David Gamble, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen, is the lead author of the study. The research group, led by Prof Myint, the senior author of the study.
The study is published in The International Journal of Epidemiology.
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