Atrial Fibrillation? Better ask your doctor about anticoagulation.


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a major risk factor for TIA and Stroke.

It is estimated that AF accounts for >20% of all strokes.

This risk can be lowered by as much as 60% by taking an anticoagulant such as warfarin (Coumadin).

Current guidelines recommend anticoagulation for all patients with AF, even paroxysmal (intermittent) AF:

1. If they have had a prior TIA or stroke, or

2. If they have two or more of the following risk factors: (1) age > 75 years, (2) history of hypertension, (3) diabetes mellitus, and (4) moderately or severely impaired left ventricular systolic function and/or heart failure.

If you have AF, click here to calculate your CHADS2 score and stroke risk, and click here to calculate your risk of bleeding from anticoagulation.

Your risk of stroke is much higher than your bleeding risk, right?

Many AF patients don’t get anticoagulants because they are considered a fall risk. If you had AF and need anticoagulation, you would have to fall more than 300 times a year for the harm from the falls to outweigh the benefits of anticoagulation.

Despite these guidelines, recent studies have shown that:

1. Less than half of AF patients with a high stroke risk receive anticoagulants.

2. Even less patients with paroxysmal (intermittent) AF than those with permanent AF receive anticoagulants (31 vs 49%), even though the stroke risk is the same in both groups.

3. Too few patients with new onset AF are started on anticoagulants (only 52%).

We need to do better.

Click here to download a booklet about AF and stroke.

Click here to download a worksheet that you and your doctor can use to decide if anticoagulation is right for you.

On Aspirin or Warfarin for Stroke Prevention, Need Dental Work or Minor Surgical Procedure, What to do?

We have previously blogged about the importance of antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs for stroke prevention.

Let’s say you are taking one of these drugs, and you need to have dental work, or a minor surgical procedure.  Is it safe to hold the drug?  What should you do?

Obviously you are weighing the risk of a recurrent stroke against the risk of complications from increased bleeding during the procedure.

A recent evidence based guideline from the American Academy of Neurology tries to address some of these concerns.

Here is what it says:

If you are taking aspirin, it’s probably OK to continue it while you undergo dental work, skin biopsy, cataract surgery, epidural injections, EMG, endoscopy, colonoscopy and prostate biopsies.

If you are taking warfarin, it’s probably OK to continue it while you undergo dental work, skin biopsy and EMG.

Otherwise, you might need to temporarily hold the aspirin or warfarin for the procedure.

Unfortunately, that is where the guidelines end – There is insufficient data to make formal recommendations about how long these medications should be held for, when they should be re-started, and if patients should be a on “bridging drug” (like Lovenox or heparin shots) while warfarin is held.   These are still decisions that have to made on a case by case basis after careful discussion with your doctor(s).