Background: Atherosclerotic intracranial arterial stenosis is an important cause of stroke. Warfarin is commonly used in preference to aspirin for this disorder, but these therapies have not been compared in a randomized trial.
Methods: We randomly assigned patients with transient ischemic attack or stroke caused by angiographically verified 50 to 99 percent stenosis of a major intracranial artery to receive warfarin (target international normalized ratio, 2.0 to 3.0) or aspirin (1300 mg per day) in a double-blind, multicenter clinical trial. The primary end point was ischemic stroke, brain hemorrhage, or death from vascular causes other than stroke.
Results: After 569 patients had undergone randomization, enrollment was stopped because of concerns about the safety of the patients who had been assigned to receive warfarin. During a mean follow-up period of 1.8 years, adverse events in the two groups included death (4.3 percent in the aspirin group vs. 9.7 percent in the warfarin group; hazard ratio for aspirin relative to warfarin, 0.46; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.23 to 0.90; P=0.02), major hemorrhage (3.2 percent vs. 8.3 percent, respectively; hazard ratio, 0.39; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.18 to 0.84; P=0.01), and myocardial infarction or sudden death (2.9 percent vs. 7.3 percent, respectively; hazard ratio, 0.40; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.18 to 0.91; P=0.02). The rate of death from vascular causes was 3.2 percent in the aspirin group and 5.9 percent in the warfarin group (P=0.16); the rate of death from nonvascular causes was 1.1 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively (P=0.05). The primary end point occurred in 22.1 percent of the patients in the aspirin group and 21.8 percent of those in the warfarin group (hazard ratio, 1.04; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.73 to 1.48; P=0.83).
Conclusions: Warfarin was associated with significantly higher rates of adverse events and provided no benefit over aspirin in this trial. Aspirin should be used in preference to warfarin for patients with intracranial arterial stenosis.
Copyright 2005 Massachusetts Medical Society.