Background: Chronic atrial fibrillation is a prevalent cardiac disorder. The literature indicates varying proportions of those treated with anticoagulants, and varying intensity of anticoagulation. Electronic patient records are providing us with clinical data concerning management of anticoagulant treatment in real-life practice that is useful for audits. We aimed to assess warfarin treatment for chronic atrial fibrillation in primary health care with regard to prevalence, incidence, the proportion treated and the quality of anticoagulation control.
Methods: Five primary health care centres in Stockholm with a registered population of 75146 participated in a one-year retrospective study of electronic patient records up until May 2000. All patients over 18 years of age with an encounter labelled 'Atrial fibrillation' were identified, and all records of patients on warfarin treatment were manually reviewed. Main outcome measures were number of patients with chronic atrial fibrillation, number of patients on wafarin treatment, and time within the therapeutic prothrombin range.
Results: In total, 419 patients had chronic atrial fibrillation, giving a prevalence of 0.60% (age-adjusted 0.62%), the age group 65 years or older accounted for 91.6%, and 50.1% were women. Out of these, 50.4% (211 patients) were established on warfarin treatment for chronic atrial fibrillation (0.28% of the population), and there was a predominance of men (p = 0.02). Fifty-four patients started treatment with warfarin for chronic atrial fibrillation (0.07% of the population). Among 25 randomly selected patients on established treatment, the proportion of time within the therapeutic range was 70.2%. Among 24 randomly selected patients starting treatment, the proportion of time with therapeutic values was 54.2% and 66.9% the first and second months of treatment, respectively.
Conclusions: Chronic atrial fibrillation is common among the elderly in primary health care, and about half of these patients are treated with warfarin. It appears to be under-diagnosed, and may also be under-treated. About two thirds of treatment time is spent within the therapeutic range, and further improvement of the quality of anticoagulation control with warfarin may therefore be hard to achieve.