Purpose: Patients at high risk for falls are presumed to be at increased risk for intracranial hemorrhage, and high risk for falls is cited as a contraindication to antithrombotic therapy. Data substantiating this concern are lacking.
Methods: Quality improvement organizations identified 1245 Medicare beneficiaries who were documented in the medical record to be at high risk of falls and 18261 other patients with atrial fibrillation. The patients were elderly (mean 80 years), and 48% were prescribed warfarin at hospital discharge. The primary endpoint was subsequent hospitalization for an intracranial hemorrhage, based on ICD-9 codes.
Results: Rates (95% confidence interval [CI]) of intracranial hemorrhage per 100 patient-years were 2.8 (1.9-4.1) in patients at high risk for falls and 1.1 (1.0-1.3) in other patients. Rates (95% CI) of traumatic intracranial hemorrhage were 2.0 (1.3-3.1) in patients at high risk for falls and 0.34 (0.27-0.45) in other patients. Hazard ratios (95% CI) of other independent risk factors for intracranial hemorrhage were 1.4 (1.0-3.1) for neuropsychiatric disease, 2.1 (1.6-2.7) for prior stroke, and 1.9 (1.4-2.4) for prior major bleeding. Warfarin prescription was associated with intracranial hemorrhage mortality but not with intracranial hemorrhage occurrence. Ischemic stroke rates per 100 patient-years were 13.7 in patients at high risk for falls and 6.9 in other patients. Warfarin prescription in patients prone to fall who had atrial fibrillation and multiple additional stroke risk factors appeared to protect against a composite endpoint of stroke, intracranial hemorrhage, myocardial infarction, and death.
Conclusion: Patients at high risk for falls with atrial fibrillation are at substantially increased risk of intracranial hemorrhage, especially traumatic intracranial hemorrhage. However, because of their high stroke rate, they appear to benefit from anticoagulant therapy if they have multiple stroke risk factors.