What is the rationale for the acute use of anticoagulant therapy in posterior cerebral artery (PCA) stroke?

Updated: Jul 30, 2018
  • Author: Erek K Helseth, MD; Chief Editor: Helmi L Lutsep, MD  more...
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The rationale for the acute use of anticoagulant therapy lies in preventing acute recurrence of stroke; however, trials have shown that this risk of early recurrent stroke is low and that heparin does not provide any functional or survival advantage. Nonetheless, this remains a controversial area, with some stroke experts having strong opinions about acute anticoagulation.

In general, the stroke mechanism should be identified so that a better, informed decision can be made before long-term anticoagulation is chosen. PCA strokes that arise from vertebral artery dissection are more frequently treated with anticoagulation, although again there is a paucity of data to support this use.

Early anticoagulation may be the most appropriate preventive strategy in specific circumstances that are considered high-risk, such as the presence of an intracardiac thrombus or a dissection with visualized large intraluminal thrombus. Strokes caused by atrial fibrillation do not require early anticoagulation with heparin. Studies have demonstrated that the risk of recurrent stroke within the first weeks is approximately 1%. [24] Early heparinization in this setting is associated with no clear stroke prevention benefit but is associated with increased hemorrhagic complications.

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