Underuse of oral anticoagulants in patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation in Italy

Intern Emerg Med. 2007 Mar;2(1):24-8. doi: 10.1007/s11739-007-0005-2. Epub 2007 Mar 31.


Introduction: Oral anticoagulants (OAs) are significantly more effective than Aspirin in the prevention of cerebrovascular accidents among patients with atrial fibrillation (AF). Several studies, however, showed OAs to be widely underused in these patients.

Objective: To assess the appropriateness of antithrombotic therapy in an Italian population of AF patients.

Methods: Two hundred and fifty-five consecutive patients affected by nonvalvular AF participated in the study. Data were collected on demographic characteristics, risk factors for stroke, current prophylactic therapy, and perceived or actual risk factors for bleeding. INR levels were measured. Patients were stratified by their risk for stroke (214 at high risk, 21 moderate, 20 low), and their prophylactic therapy was analysed in light of international antithrombotic therapy recommendations. After therapy adjustment, 203 of our patients were followed-up for the occurrence of cerebrovascular events for an average of 27 months.

Results: Upon admission, 35% (n=75) of patients in the high-risk category were either taking no antithrombotic prophylaxis or were being treated with Aspirin. In addition, 38 of 139 patients receiving OAs had an INR<2. Thus, a total of 113 (52.8%) high-risk subjects were not receiving adequate antithrombotic therapy. Of high-risk patients not treated with OAs, 46.7% reported no perceived or actual risk factors for bleeding. The annual incidence of cerebrovascular accidents was 3.8% among 163 high-risk patients assigned to OA treatment, and 4.5% among 39 patients given Aspirin treatment. Relative to expected annual incidence rates, cerebrovascular risk in anticoagulated patients was reduced by about 70%.

Conclusions: Underuse of OAs is still common in Italy, and much of it cannot be explained by the concern for haemorrhage. Support and training in the complex task of anticoagulation management may help to extend this efficacious prophylactic therapy to all patients who may benefit from it.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / drug therapy*
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Male


  • Anticoagulants