Background: Warfarin dramatically reduces the risk for ischemic stroke in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation, but its use among ambulatory patients with atrial fibrillation has not been widely studied.
Objective: To assess the rates and predictors of warfarin use in ambulatory patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation.
Design: Cross-sectional study.
Setting: Large health maintenance organization.
Patients: 13428 patients with a confirmed ambulatory diagnosis of nonvalvular atrial fibrillation and known warfarin status between 1 July 1996 and 31 December 1997.
Measurements: Data from automated pharmacy, laboratory, and clinical-administrative databases were used to determine the prevalence and determinants of warfarin use in the 3 months before or after the identified diagnosis of atrial fibrillation.
Results: Of 11082 patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation and no known contraindications, 55% received warfarin. Warfarin use was substantially lower in patients who were younger than 55 years of age (44.3%) and those who were 85 years of age or older (35.4%). Only 59.3% of patients with one or more risk factors for stroke and no contraindications were receiving warfarin. Among a subset of "ideal" candidates to receive warfarin (persons 65 to 74 years of age who had no contraindications and had previous stroke, hypertension, or both), 62.1% had evidence of warfarin use. Among our entire cohort, the strongest predictors of receiving warfarin were previous stroke (adjusted odds ratio, 2.55 [95% CI, 2.23 to 2.92]), heart failure (odds ratio, 1.63 [CI, 1.51 to 1.77]), previous intracranial hemorrhage (odds ratio, 0.33 [CI, 0.21 to 0.52]), age 85 years or older (odds ratio, 0.35 [CI, 0.31 to 0.40]), and previous gastrointestinal hemorrhage (odds ratio, 0.47 [CI, 0.40 to 0.57]).
Conclusions: In a large, contemporary cohort of ambulatory patients with atrial fibrillation who received care within a health maintenance organization, warfarin use was considerably higher than in other reported studies. Although the reasons why physicians did not prescribe warfarin could not be elucidated, many apparently eligible patients with atrial fibrillation and at least one additional risk factor for stroke, especially hypertension, did not receive anticoagulation. Interventions are needed to increase the use of warfarin for stroke prevention among appropriate candidates.