University drugs study offers hope to stroke patients

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THOUSANDS of stroke patients could be saved by using just antibiotics and paracetamol, researchers behind a £4 million study have claimed.

Edinburgh University experts will investigate whether preemptively offering these commonly-available drugs to people who have recently suffered a stroke could help to prevent the complications such as infection and fever.

Stroke – which is caused by either a burst blood vessel in the brain or a blockage cutting off the brain’s blood supply – claimed the lives of 4436 Scots in 2013 and is the second leading cause of death globally.

Half of stroke patients suffer high temperatures following their illness, and around a third can contract infections that increase their risk of death and disability.

A quarter of patients have difficulty swallowing and face an increased risk of choking.

Professor Malcolm Macleod, from Edinburgh University’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, said: “We have made great progress in treating stroke, but it still remains a major cause of death and 
disability. This new trial aims to understand how to use existing treatments most effectively and has the potential to reduce risk of death or disability for as many as 25,000 people each year, at very low costs.”

The study, which is to involve more than 4000 patients across Europe, will randomly allocate preventative treatment or standard care to patients over 66 years old during the first four days of hospitalisation. Those receiving preventative care will be offered paracetamol to prevent high fevers and antibiotics to lower the risk of infections.

Prof Macleod said: “Stroke is one of the major killers of our age. There is the challenge of developing new and vital treatments, which is very exciting, but the question is do we already have treatments which could make a significant impact?”

The trial has an “exciting potential” to improve survival rates for stroke survivors, said Mark O’Donnell, chief executive at Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland.

Mr O’Donnell said: “Every 45 minutes someone in Scotland will have a stroke, that’s around 12,500 new strokes a year, and of these nearly one in four is in someone under 65.

“Although there has been a steady increase in survival rates following stroke in the last ten years, many of the survivors leave hospital with serious incapacity. This new trial has exciting potential to improve outcomes for these survivors by preventing complications from infection and fever with simple, low-cost drugs.”

The study is led by Utrecht University and funded by the Horizon 2020 programme.