The Increasing Need for Anticoagulant Therapy to Prevent Stroke in Patients With Atrial Fibrillation

Ezekowitz, Michael D.; Falk, Rodney H.
July 2004
Mayo Clinic Proceedings;Jul2004, Vol. 79 Issue 7, p904
Academic Journal
Ischemic stroke, a major complication of atrial fibrillation (AF), is believed to result from atrial thrombus formation caused by ineffective atrial contraction. Oral anticoagulant therapy effectively reduces the risk of ischemic stroke in patients with AF, this therapy is recommended for patients with any frequency or duration of AF and other risk factors for stroke, such as increased age (>75 years), hypertension, prior stroke, left ventricular dysfunction, diabetes, or heart failure. Recently published data comparing rate-control and rhythm-control strategies in AF emphasized the importance of maintaining an international normalized ratio higher than 2.0 during warfarin therapy and the need for continuing anticoagulant therapy to prevent stroke in high-risk-patients, even if the strategy is rhythm control Hemorrhagic complications can be minimized by stringent control of the international normalized ratio (particularly in elderly patients) and appropriate therapy for comorbidities such as hypertension, gastric ulcer, and early-stage cancers. Undertreatment of patients with AF is a continuing problem, particularly in the elderly population. Patients perceived as likely to be non-compliant, such as the functionality impaired, are less likely to receive warfarin therapy. However, stroke prevention with anticoagulants is cost-effective and improves quality of life, despite the challenges of maintaining appropriate anticoagulation with monitoring and warfarin dose titration. New medications in development with more predictable dosing and fewer drug-drug interactions may reduce the complexities of achieving optimal anticoagulation and increase the practicality of long-term anticoagulant therapy for patients with AF at risk of stroke.


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