The rate of brain hemorrhages associated with blood thinning drugs quintupled during the 1990s, according to a study. In people over age 80, the rate increased more than tenfold.
Most of the increase is due to greater use of the drug warfarin, which is commonly prescribed to prevent blood clotting. Blood clots can lead to ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke. An intracerebral brain hemorrhage is a stroke caused by bleeding in the brain.
The use of warfarin increased after studies showed it reduced the risk of stroke caused by blood clots for people with atrial fibrillation, a condition that causes irregular heart rhythm and becomes more common as people age.
"Warfarin is highly effective in preventing ischemic stroke among people with atrial fibrillation," said study author Matthew L. Flaherty, MD, of the University of Cincinnati. "For many people, the benefits of preventing ischemic stroke continue to outweigh the risk of a hemorrhagic stroke.
"Our findings should not discourage the use of warfarin when it's appropriate. Doctors can use these findings to make sure they are weighing the risks and benefits of warfarin use for their patients. For researchers, these results may stimulate efforts to develop safer alternatives to warfarin and better treatments for people with brain hemorrhages."